Dental care is an important part of your pet’s overall health. Just as you brush your teeth every day and have them professionally cleaned by your dentist, your dog or cat needs similar treatment. One of the most common indicators of dental disease in your pet is bad breath. The bad odor is due to the metabolism of some the bacteria present in the mouth when excessive plaque is present.
Plaque forms when there is a buildup of bacteria and other components of saliva along the teeth and gums. Plaque is mostly made up of bacteria, and is initially soft. At this stage it can be removed by frequent brushing. After a while plaque hardens and is known as calculus (tartar). In your pet, this calculus can build up below the gum line, leading to periodontal disease. This can cause infections in the gums, which can also lead to infections throughout the body. Sometimes the teeth will become very painful and loose, and may even fall out.
If calculus is allowed to build up on your pet’s teeth, this can cause severe dental disease. The first sign of dental disease is gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums. The gums will be reddened and sore in this case. Your pet will also have bad breath, and may be drooling. The gums will probably bleed after brushing the teeth as well.
The best preventative care for your pet’s teeth involves regular brushing and occasional dental prophylaxis at your veterinarians office. A dental prophylaxis (often called dental prophy) is an in-depth teeth cleaning and oral exam performed by your veterinarian. Your pet will need to be placed under general anesthesia in order to have a dental prophy performed.
You can brush your pet’s teeth using a soft bristled toothbrush and special “pet toothpaste.” Do not use human toothpaste because it can irritate your pet’s stomach if swallowed. If you acclimate your pet to the brushing when he is young, it will be easier, but most animals will tolerate it at any age. Gently brush the teeth on a regular basis, and you will go a long way to reducing the buildup of plaque! For dogs, you can also provide chew toys such as Nylabones and other toys that are specifically designed to help clean teeth. There are also some new diets that have increased teeth cleaning properties. For all pets, dry food is the best choice for keeping the teeth clean.
You veterinarian will recommend a dental prophy for your pet when he feels that it is required. Many pets have hard, brown stains on their teeth formed by calculus. This, along with bad breath and sensitive gums, is a real indication that your pet needs a professional cleaning. The cleaning takes place under general anesthesia for everyone’s safety, and so the veterinarian has a good chance to examine the entire mouth. Your veterinarian may want to perform pre-operative blood work on your pet to be sure there will be no complications with the anesthesia. An ultrasonic scaler will be used to remove calculus, as well as manual scraping to remove any calculus built up below the gum line. Then each tooth is examined and extractions are performed, if necessary. Finally, the teeth are polished to leave a smooth surface. This makes it harder for bacteria to get a foothold on the tooth to begin creating plaque!
In some pets, dental cleaning may need to be done each year, although this is not always the case. Appropriate dental care is an important part of your pets overall health, especially as he ages. Dental disease can cause many problems for you and your pet, so use preventative care to avoid these potential hazards. Happy brushing!