(information provided by our own Dental Tech, Elisa)
It is well known that our pets can suffer from the same dental problems that we do, and it is more common for them to have significant dental problems because they don’t get regular dental care, a main reason being they rarely show obvious signs of pain or problems, which allows the periodontal disease to progress. It is imperative for owners to understand the importance of oral health, as periodontal disease in animals has been linked to many systemic diseases including kidney and liver disease. This is due to a consistent bacterial load in the mouth entering the bloodstream through bleeding or inflamed gums. In addition to systemic diseases, periodontal infection leads to problems in and near the mouth such as tooth root abscesses, nasal infection, and jaw fractures.
Periodontal Disease starts out as a bacterial film called plaque. When the bacteria on the teeth die, it becomes calcified and forms a hard, rough substance called tartar or calculus, which allows more plaque/calculus to accumulate. Initially, plaque is soft and brushing or chewing hard food and toys can remove it. If left to spread, plaque can lead to gingivitis, causing them to become red, swollen and to bleed easily. As plaque and calculus develop below the gum line, and if this buildup continues unchecked, infection can form around the root of the tooth, leading to abscess and bone loss. In cats, there is a very common condition called tooth resorption. This is caused by the cat’s immune system attacking its own teeth. This results in a defect, much like a cavity, which is extremely painful. In the final stages of periodontal disease, the tissues surrounding the tooth are destroyed, the bony socket holding the tooth in erodes, and the tooth becomes loose. This is a very painful process for your pet, and the bottom line is that dental disease can actually shorten the lifespan of your pets, but with proper care, many of these conditions improve.
Treatment and prevention of dental disease in our pets requires homecare and regular professional cleanings. Full dental procedures are generally recommended annually, but the frequency varies among breeds and individuals. In general, the smaller the breed of dog, the more prone it is to periodontal disease and so more frequent dental cleanings are necessary.
Proper veterinary dental care requires general anesthesia, as “Anesthesia-free” dentistry is not only ineffective, it is stressful to the pet and it is dangerous to have sharp instruments in their mouths while they are awake. Anesthesia is safe when performed correctly and at current standards. Dublin Animal Hospital is an AAHA approved facility, meaning we adhere to OSHA standards and follow AAHA guidelines for anesthetic procedures, and undergo a meticulous annual review to keep our AAHA approval status.
It is a common misconception that older patients are a high anesthetic risk. We frequently hear “My pet is too old for anesthesia.” Age is not a disease. In fact, if your pet is otherwise healthy, age has little increase on anesthetic complications. Age does make it more likely that the pet has some systemic illness, which is why pre-anesthetic blood tests and examinations are recommended. Things we may recommend in our older patients for pre anesthetic screening is:
- A complete blood panel- chemistries, thyroid and CBC. A basic blood panel should be run for any animal undergoing general anesthesia.
- Urinalysis- for evaluation of kidney function in cats).
- Chest radiographs- to make sure the heart and lungs are normal.
If these tests are normal, there is no increased risk for anesthesia. If a pet has mild to moderate systemic problems, the vast majority would benefit from good oral health and even patients with severe systemic disease can be treated, especially if their level of disease is significant. Once the baseline health of the patient is established, we can determine the appropriate risk to benefit ratio for each patient.
Once it has been determined that your pet is safe to undergo anesthesia, we are vigilant in or efforts to make sure that your pet stays safe while the procedure take place. Your pet will receive IV fluids throughout the procedure to support blood pressure; vital signs will be monitored constantly via electric monitors and technicians, and kept warm with a forced air heating blanket. All dental technicians have completed extensive training and stay current with the latest information on anesthesia and related procedures.
After professional dental cleanings, the best way for owners to keep their pets teeth healthy and reduce the need of anesthetized dental procedures as much as possible, is to perform homecare. Ideally, this includes daily brushing, but there are a number of diets, rinses and treats that can also be effective preventive measures. Here are some tips for keeping up on your pets dental care at home:
1. The Breath Test
Sniff your pets’ breath. Not a field of lilies? That’s okay-normally your pets breath isn’t particularly fresh-smelling. However, if their breath is especially offensive and is accompanied by a loss of appetite, there may be an abscess brewing.
2. Take a Peek
Once a week, with your pet facing you, lift their lips and examine the gums and teeth. The gums should be pink, not white or red, and should show no signs of swelling. The teeth should be clean, without any brownish tartar.
3. Signs of Periodontal Disease
The following are signs that your pet may have a problem in his mouth or gastrointestinal system and should be checked by a veterinarian:
Inflamed and/ or swollen gums
Growths on the gums
Cysts under the tongue
Ulcers on gums or tongue
Difficulty chewing food
Excessive pawing at the mouth area
4. Brush, Brush, Brush!
Get yourself a toothbrush made especially for animals or a clean piece of soft gauze to wrap around your finger. Ask your vet for toothpaste made especially for pets, and never use fluoride or human toothpaste, which can irritate your pets’ stomach. Special mouthwash for pets is also available. First get your pet used to the idea of having their teeth brushed. Massage their lips with your finger in a circular motion for 30 to 60 seconds once or twice a day for a few weeks. Then move on to their teeth and gums.
When your pet seems comfortable being touched this way, put a little bit of pet formulated toothpaste on their lips to get them used to the taste.
Next, introduce a toothbrush designed for pets – it should be smaller than a human toothbrush and have softer bristles. Toothbrushes that you can wear over your finger (or a clean piece of gauze) are also available and allow you to give a nice massage to your pets gums.
Finally, apply the toothpaste to their teeth for a gentle brushing.
A veterinary exam beforehand may be helpful to find out if your dog’s gums are inflamed. If your dog has mild gingivitis, brushing too hard can hurt their gums
Place the brush or your gauze-wrapped finger at a 45-degree angle to the teeth and clean in small, circular motions. Work on one area of your pets’ mouth at a time, lifting their lip as necessary. The side of the tooth that touches the cheek usually has the most tartar, and giving a final downward stroke can help to remove it. If your pet resists having the inner surfaces of their teeth cleaned, don’t fight it-only a small amount of tartar accumulates there. Once you get the technique down, go for a brushing two or three times a week.
8. Know Your Mouth Disorders
Getting familiar with the possible mouth problems your pet may encounter will help you determine when it’s time to see a vet about treatment:
Periodontal disease: a painful infection between the tooth and the gum that can result in tooth loss and spread infection to the rest of the body. Signs are loose teeth, bad breath, tooth pain, sneezing and nasal discharge.
Gingivitis: inflammation of the gums caused mainly by accumulation of plaque, tartar and disease-producing bacteria above and below the gum line. Signs include bleeding, red, swollen gums and bad breath. It is reversible with regular teeth cleanings.
Halitosis: bad breath-can be the first sign of a mouth problem and is caused by bacteria growing from food particles caught between the teeth or by gum infection. Regular tooth-brushings are a great solution.
Swollen gums develop when tartar builds up and food gets stuck between the teeth. Regularly brushing your dog’s teeth at home and getting annual cleanings at the vet can prevent tartar and gingivitis.
Proliferating gum disease occurs when the gum grows over the teeth and must be treated to avoid gum infection. An inherited condition common to boxers and bull terriers, it can be treated with antibiotics.
Mouth tumors appear as lumps in the gums. Some are malignant and must be surgically removed.
Salivary cysts look like large, fluid-filled blisters under the tongue, but can also develop near the corners of the jaw. They require drainage, and the damaged saliva gland must be removed.
Canine distemper teeth can occur if a dog had distemper as a puppy. Adult teeth can appear looking eroded and can often decay. As damage is permanent, decayed teeth should be removed by a vet.
Gingivitis: This inflammation of the gums is mainly seen in older cats. It may start as a dark red line bordering on the teeth. If left untreated, gums may become sore and ulceration may occur. This may be a sign of FIV or other infection.
Periodontitis: If gingivitis invades the tooth socket, the tooth may become loose and an abscess may form.
Stomatitis: This inflammation of the mouth lining may result from a foreign body in the mouth, a viral disease or dental problems. The cat will have difficulty eating and the inside of the mouth will appear red.
Rodent Ulcer: A slowly enlarging sore or swelling on the upper lip.
Salivary Cyst: If salivary glands or ducts that carry saliva to the mouth become blocked, a cyst may form under the tongue.
Mouth Ulcers: Ulcers on a cat’s tongue and gums are sometimes caused by feline respiratory or kidney disease.
9. Chew on This
Chew toys can satisfy your pets’ natural desire to chomp, while making their teeth strong. Gnawing on a chew toy can also help massage the gums and help keep teeth clean by scraping away soft tartar. Ask your vet for recommended toys for cats and dogs.
P.S.: Gnawing also reduces your pets overall stress level, prevents boredom and gives them an appropriate outlet for natural need to chew.
10. Diet for Healthy Teeth
Ask us about a specially formulated dry food that can slow down the formation of plaque and tartar. Also, avoid feeding your pet table scraps, and instead give them treats that are specially formulated to keep pet teeth healthy.