Why are teeth so important? If you have ever had a toothache you probably already realize how much that affects your mood and everyday activities. Diseases of the teeth and mouth affect pets overall health and well-being. Sometimes it might only be a subtle dull pain but this can affect their enjoyment of food and life in general. I think this can particularly be seen in older dogs. Maybe they just seem to be “slowing” down but in fact their mouth just does not feel 100%.
Without proper dental care, bacteria, known as plaque, builds up above and below the gumline. These bacteria may calcify to form tartar which we see as the brown colour on the crowns of the teeth. As ugly as this looks, this is purely a cosmetic problem. What is more important is what these bacteria are doing UNDER the gumline. The bacteria invades the bone and tissues surrounding each tooth and eventually ‘eats’ away at the bone causing the tooth to become loose or the root to become infected. This can be painful and uncomfortable. Sometimes this can lead to a significant abscess or pocket of infection.The same bacteria not only affects the bone surrounding the teeth it can also invade the blood stream and then affect the animal’s heart, liver & kidneys They are also responsible for the terrible odour we smell from our dog and cat’s mouths.
So what does proper dental care involve? The main goal of dental care in pets is to prevent these bacteria from building up and causing irreversible damage to the teeth and jaw bone. The very best way to do this is to regularly clean your pet’s teeth. This should be done BOTH at home on a daily basis and yearly (or every few years) with your veterinarian. The earlier in their life that you start dental care, the more benefits you will see.
It is very important that your pet have their teeth examined yearly by your veterinarian. This is likely the first best step before you start brushing in case there are some areas that need addressing and may be painful if brushed. Your veterinarian may recommend a professional cleaning of your pet’s teeth just like you would have performed by your dentist. The only difference is that your pet will need to be given anesthesia for a proper cleaning to be achieved. As we discussed earlier, the important disease can be hidden under the gum line. The only way to find this hidden disease is to clean off the plaque and tartar above and BELOW the gum line, take measurements of pockets around the teeth and then take x-rays of any problem areas. The instruments used to clean under the gum line are very sharp and require a special technique to do the job properly. This is why it is extremely important that the animal be asleep and not be able to make any sudden movements while this is being done. This also allows us to perform a very thorough examination of each tooth where we can find small changes that we would not be able to find when the animal was awake.
At home dental care involves brushing your pet’s teeth with a toothpaste specific for dogs and cats. It should not be a battle or a painful process for your pet. You will also have the most success if you start with clean teeth. Pet toothpastes come in many different tasty flavors and pet toothbrushes come in many different shapes and sizes. It may take some trial and error to see what works best for you and your furry friend. Your veterinary team can help you with some tips and tricks on how to get started. Other products that can be very useful for at home dental care are prescription dental diets (available at veterinary clinics), gels, rinses, water additives and certain chew treats. There are many different products out there and it is hard to know what will provide the most benefit to your pet. The veterinary oral health council (VOHC) reviews dental products of all types and gives their seal of approval to products that are proven to slow down the build up of plaque and tartar. There is a list of approved products on their website www.vohc.org or you can just look for their ‘seal of approval’ when you are shopping for pet products.