Imagine what your mouth would feel like if you never brushed your teeth or went to the dentist. For many dogs and cats, this is a painful reality. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, more than 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have dental disease by the age of 3. Dental (or periodontal) disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem in pets.
Common signs of dental disease include:
Yellow or brown buildup (tartar) on the teeth
Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
Changes in eating or chewing habits
Pawing at the face
Even if your dog or cat doesn’t have these symptoms, we recommend that you have a veterinarian evaluate your pet’s dental health at least once a year. Bacteria and food debris accumulate around the teeth and, if left unchecked, will lead to deterioration of the soft tissue and bone surrounding the teeth. This decay can result in irreversible periodontal disease, tooth loss, and possibly expensive oral surgery.
Dental disease can also affect other organs in the body: Bacteria in the mouth can get into the bloodstream and cause serious infections in the kidneys, liver, lungs, and heart. If these problems aren’t caught and treated quickly enough, they can result in death. A physical exam combined with appropriate laboratory work can determine if infection in the mouth has spread.
Home dental care
There are two very effective home dental care options available to help prevent gum infections. The first is once-daily tooth brushing with a pet dental paste. These pastes are safe for dogs and cats to swallow so there is no need for rinsing. In addition, they come in pet-friendly flavors like chicken, beef, and seafood. When you come in for an exam, we can evaluate your pet’s mouth to see what level of dental health is present. If your pet’s teeth and gums are healthy, our team will teach you how to work with your pet to teach them to allow tooth brushing. They might even like it!
The second, very effective home dental care option is Sanos sealant. This product creates a barrier at the gum line that keeps food and bacteria from getting under the gum and causing gingivitis. It will last for 6 months, with nothing to apply at home. This option makes sense if your pet’s level of dental disease already requires anesthesia for professional cleaning because sedation and/or anesthesia is needed to apply the sealant. Once the teeth and gum pockets are cleaned, the sealant is applied as the final step. It can also be applied when puppies or kittens are neutered (if all their adult teeth are present). Then every 6 months, your veterinarian will check and see if only sealant application is needed or if it is time for a professional dental cleaning and sealant.
There are some very important factors to consider when choosing which home dental care option fits you and your pet. How committed are you to daily tooth brushing? If you can only brush twice a week or less, it will not help. It takes just 48 hours for food and bacteria to become tartar, which does not come off with a toothbrush. Any work you put in at this level will be in vain.
Another consideration is how severe is your pet’s dental disease already? If their mouth is painful, it will hurt to brush the gums and you could cause your pet to hate tooth brushing or even try to bite. Better to address the problems with professional dental cleaning and sealant or wait for the mouth to heal after the cleaning and then try brushing.
There are other things available to help with home dental care such as dental foods, dental chew toys/treats as well as products to put in the drinking water or directly in the mouth. Their effectiveness is much less than either brushing or sealant. However, every little bit helps, so do as much as you can.
Annual Cleaning and Radiographs
When you bring your pet in for his or her annual dental cleaning, Dr. Good will have digital radiographs of each tooth taken. Patients may have additional oral problems, and full mouth radiographs allow our veterinarian to view the internal anatomy of the teeth, roots and the bone that surrounds the roots. Additionally, the initial x-rays provide a base line for future comparison as your pet ages.
These intra-oral radiographs are taken while your pet is under anesthesia because animal patients do not know how to cooperate when small radiographic films or digital sensors are placed in their mouths. The films must be placed at specific angles against the teeth with the mouth both open and closed to get the best diagnostic shots and an animal’s instinct is to chew and swallow anything it feels on its tongue.
Dental radiographs help Dr Good evaluate the health of your pet’s teeth by identifying the following problems not seen by the naked eye:
- Tooth fractures
- Retained deciduous teeth (baby teeth that failed to erupt at the proper time)
- Tooth root abscesses or infections
- Areas where teeth appear to be missing (broken roots or parts of teeth may be hidden under the gumline)
- Impacted teeth (teeth that are wedged in and can’t erupt normally)
- Feline Resorptive Lesions (painful holes or erosions on the surface of the teeth found mainly in cats)
- Bone or soft tissue tumors
- Height of the bone below the gum line
- Bone changes and degree of bone loss due to periodontal disease or some other cause
- Size of the periodontal ligament space
- Presence, or disappearance, of the “lamina dura,” the bone bundle attached to the periodontal ligament
These last four diagnostic statistics help your veterinarian determine the degree of possible periodontal disease, predict future tooth and bone loss, and allow for a full treatment protocol to be recommended for you pet.