Pet Care Tips from Greenbrier Veterinary Hospital
Dental Disease in Pets
Dental disease is a common and often overlooked problem in dogs and cats. While cavities represent the most common dental disease of humans, dogs and cats are more frequently bothered by tartar buildup on the teeth. Tartar accumulation leads to irritation of the gums around the base of the teeth, ultimately leading exposure of the roots. Potential outcomes of this tooth root exposure include gum infections and tooth loss.
One of the main factors determining the amount of tartar buildup is the individual chemistry in the mouth. Some pets need yearly cleanings; other pets need a cleaning only every few years.
Diet plays more of a minor role in development of tartar accumulation than most people think. Because dry food is not a sticky as canned food, it does not adhere to the teeth as much as thus, does not cause tartar buildup as rapidly. However, eating dry food does not remove tartar from the teeth. Once tartar forms, a professional cleaning is necessary.
Many different disorders can lead to dental disease. In general, the veterinarian will try to determine whether the problem is limited to the oral cavity (primary dental disease) or has developed as a consequence of another disease (secondary dental disease)
In some cases, owners are unaware that their pet has dental disease. The problem may be identified with a routine physical examination or during investigation of another problem.
In other situations, the probability of dental disease is apparent to the owner. The pet may have very bad breath (halitosis), difficulty eating, drooling, or changes in temperament.
Diagnosis of dental disease is usually very straightforward. A visual examination of the oral cavity reveals tartar and gingivitis. However, in most cases, the true extent of the disease cannot be determined unless the pet is under anesthesia. This facilitates a more complete examination of the oral cavity.
Proper cleaning of the teeth requires complete cooperation of the patient so that plaque and tartar can be removed properly. Anesthesia is required to thoroughly clean the teeth. Many owners have a high degree of anxiety related to general anesthesia for their pets. While there is always a degree of risk with any anesthetic, be aware that delaying proper dental care may ultimately compromise the pet's health.
To minimize risk, our hospital uses modern anesthetics that are deemed safe even for older pets. Also, depending on your pet's age and general health status, blood may be drawn prior to anesthesia to evaluate blood cell counts and blood chemistry.
There are four steps in the cleaning process that will be used on your pet:
1. Scaling removes the tartar above and below the gum line. This is done with hand instruments and ultrasonic cleaning equipment. The tartar that is under the gums must be removed for a dental cleaning to be complete.
2. Polishing smoothes the surface of the teeth, making them resistant to additional plaque formation.
3. Flushing removes dislodged tartar from the teeth and helps to remove the bacteria that accompany tartar.
4. Fluoride Coating decreases teeth sensitivity, strengthens enamel, and decreases the rate of future plaque formation.
In the early stages of dental disease, the problems may be reversible. At some point, however, even cleaning cannot restore the mouth to normal. This is not a reason to avoid cleaning!
The prognosis is worsened if tartar is left on the teeth indefinitely. Some of the consequences of delayed dental care are:
1. The tartar will mechanically push the gums away from the roots of the teeth. This allows the teeth to loosen in their sockets and infection to enter the root socket. The teeth will loosen and fall out or have to be extracted.
2. Infection will accumulate in the mouth, resulting in gingivitis (gums), tonsillitis, and pharyngitis (sore throat). Although antibiotics may temporarily suppress the infection, if the tartar is not removed from the teeth, infection will return quickly.
3. Infection within the mouth will be picked up by the blood stream and carried to other parts of the body. Kidney and heart infections frequently begin in the mouth.
1. Seek regular veterinary care and have the teeth cleaned when advised.
2. Try to maintain home dental care with brushing the teeth. Special toothbrushes and flavored toothpastes are available. We will be happy to show you how to do this and recommend a schedule.
3. A tartar control diet is available through our clinic. It can be used as a maintenance diet or as a treat. It will not clean but will prolong the interval between professional cleanings (under anesthesia).
The Greenbrier Veterinary Hospital is an accredited hospital member of the American Animal Hospital Association, an international association of more than 16,000 veterinarians who treat companion animals. AAHA hospital members are regularly inspected to ensure they meet AAHA's high standards of pet care.