Proper dental care is essential for the health and well-being of all dogs and cats. Without proper oral health care, the teeth may become diseased and cause unnecessary pain and suffering for our pets. Severely affected teeth can even cause systemic disease for our dogs and cats.
Lack of Proper Dental Health Care can Cause Dental Disease in Dogs and Cats
The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) estimates that 50% of our cats have begun to suffer from dental disease by the time they are three years old. In dogs, the numbers are even higher, with 80% of dogs over three years of age suffering from some form of dental disease. That amounts to over 3/4 of our dogs!
Canine and feline dental disease starts with a plaque which builds up on the teeth. If the plaque is not removed, gingivitis (inflammation of the gum tissue) begins to occur, usually starting along the gum line where it meets the teeth. Gingivitis is visible as an inflammation or abnormal reddish color in the tissue along the gum line.
As the gingivitis progresses, the infection eventually spreads to the tissue around the gums including the bone adjacent to the teeth, causing periodontitis. Periodontitis may become severe enough that bacteria are transferred from the mouth to the bloodstream and distributed throughout the body to all of the major organ systems. This infection of major organ systems can be a serious complication of both canine and feline dental disease.
Symptoms of Dental Disease in the Dog and Cat
Dental disease in dogs and cats can cause bad breath, which is often the first sign that there is a problem in the mouth. However, many pet owners either fail to notice the smell or believe the odor to be normal for their dog or cat.
Other signs of the dental disease commonly seen which may be noticed by pet owners are:
- discolored teeth
- tooth loss
How to Initiate a Dental Health Program for Your Dog or Cat
Kittens and puppies can be started on a dental health program almost immediately and have a veterinary dental evaluation done at their puppy or kitten visit if necessary. However, more mature dogs and cats should be evaluated by their veterinarian before starting a dental care program.
Depending on the severity of your dog or cat’s dental disease, your veterinarian may need to anesthetize your pet and clean the teeth. This is normally done with a specialized ultrasonic device. At the same time, your veterinarian will perform a comprehensive oral health exam and treatment (COHAT) which will involve evaluation of each individual tooth and the development of a plan to treat any diseased teeth and keep the remaining teeth healthy. The COHAT may involve dental radiographs of the teeth to evaluate the root structure. Often, a pathology which is not visible grossly on an oral exam is visible on dental radiographs and this may change the treatment plan in some cases.
While root canals and other endodontic treatments can be performed, the primary goal of a dental examination and treatment is to make sure that the dog or cat does not suffer pain from bad teeth. If there is a chance that a diseased tooth can be saved, endodontic treatments may be offered and may require referral to a veterinary dental specialist. However, often the tooth is beyond saving or the owner is ill-prepared to be able to provide adequate oral health care after the procedure. In these cases, the best treatment will be removing the tooth so that it cannot serve as a source of pain for the pet. Remember, a pain-free mouth is the ultimate goal of dental health care.
Regular Tooth Brushing is the Mainstay of Good Dental Health for the Canine and Feline Pet
Once your veterinarian has evaluated and treated your pet’s mouth as necessary, you will need to institute a dental health care program at home. Though there a number of products which are designed to aid in keeping the mouth healthy, brushing your dog or cat’s teeth is the most important preventive measure you can provide.
Pet toothbrushes and toothpaste are widely available and should be used in lieu of human toothpaste, which may cause gastrointestinal irritation. Soft-bristled brushes are the safest and most effective and many pet owners find that finger brushes work best to brush the teeth, but long-handled varieties of toothbrushes are also available.
If your pet is unaccustomed to having his/her teeth brushed, you will need to start gradually and introduce your dog or cat slowly to the toothpaste. Once he/she is comfortable with the toothpaste, introduce the toothbrush in a slow step-wise fashion. Once your pet accepts the toothpaste and toothbrush, begin brushing his/her teeth for very short periods of time.
Proper Dental Health Care Leads to Happy, Healthy, Pain-Free Dogs and Cats
Providing dental health care in the form of regular brushing and periodic veterinary examinations can help assure that your dog or cat retains a healthy mouth which does not contribute to disease or cause unneeded pain and discomfort.