Dog Breath… It’s Not a Joking Matter
Pets need their teeth cleaned too…..We all know that oral health is important for us but we seem to forget that our cats and dogs need tooth care too. Dogs and cats are living longer and as such we need to take care of their teeth. They do not brush and floss daily and we can no longer think that dry food alone provides them with adequate treatment.
By the age of 3 yrs over 80% of all dogs and cats have some form of dental disease; this can have serious consequences for their general health. The bacteria in the mouth can seed to other areas of the body such as the heart, kidneys, intestinal tract and joints causing infection and disease. Therefore, it is important to start regular dental care for your pets early in life.
Puppies and kittens start life, just like people, with deciduous (baby) teeth that fall out by the age of six months and replaced with the adult teeth
(42 in dogs and 30 in cats). Even at this young age it is important to check to make sure the baby teeth have fallen out as this can cause problems and will not allow the adult teeth to erupt correctly.
Starting home care at an early age is key; your pet may not like this and must be trained to accept this treatment. NEVER use human toothpaste (the detergents are toxic). Try special flavored paste for cats and dogs, which contain enzymes to help control plaque. This can be introduced as a treat on a finger, then slowly introduce a brush into the mouth. Select a brush appropriate to the size of your pet – less than 30lbs you can use a mini brush or finger brush.
For larger pets try a special angled brush with soft bristles. Work the paste into the bristles to prevent the pet from simply licking this off. Use gentle oval motions as you move around the mouth.
The picture to the left shows correct brush angle to clean the teeth. Daily removal of plaque is the key to oral health, without this the plaque (accumulation of food particles and bacteria) will build up at the gum line. If the plaque is not removed, then in 3-5 days, as the minerals in saliva combine with it, it will become tartar or calculus. This is irritating to the gums and causes inflammation (gingivitis). This will eventually cause damage to the tooth attachment (periodontal disease). Once you notice the yellow/brown accumulation at the gum margin, then it is time for a professional cleaning. Simple brushing will not remove this material and using a fingernail or a home dental scaler will miss the material accumulated under the gum margin. This will continue to allow the bacteria to eat away at the tooth’s support structure (periodontal disease).
A professional cleaning has to be done under general anesthesia to allow complete examination of the pet’s mouth, to probe each tooth to check for any pockets of infection, any injury and to allow x-rays to be taken to look at the tooth roots and for any periodontal disease. It also allows for complete pain control (local blocks) and to protect the respiratory system from the bacteria from the mouth.
Once you have had a professional cleaning it is important to start/continue adequate home care. Brushing is the best – studies have shown that adequate health can be maintained with brushing 2-3 times weekly, but daily brushing is needed to prevent gingivitis. There are special treats,rinses, water additives and food that may help in controlling plaque build up but they will not prevent this.
When looking for treats or other products to help with oral care check for the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval (or check out www.vohc.org for information on products and standards). There are many products for oral health, diets specially designed to increase chewing and plaque removal, rinses and gels for use daily, water additives to help decrease the bacteria in the mouth, chews to use in place of regular treats and special toys for tooth care. Care needs to be taken, as some dental toys can be too tough and lead to dental fractures.
Remember February is designated Pet Dental Health Month to help remind pet owners of the importance of proper dental care. Veterinary dentistry is becoming more common and sophisticated; pets can have root canals, crowns and even braces. There is also a dental vaccine against Porphyromonas sp. bacteria that are present in 75% of all cases of periodontal disease; at this time the duration of immunity of the vaccine has not been determined and it is not recommended as a core vaccine by the American Animal Hospital Association; but watch for further information.
But care starts at home, with routine oral exams and regular brushing. It is important that at every veterinary visit there is an dental assessment to see if cleaning is advised or if there are any other concerns such as abnormal swelling, any gum or oral masses or broken teeth.
Dr. Kathryn Stoltzfus, BSc, BVSc, MRCVS graduated from the University of Liverpool in 1994 and is currently Chief of Staff at Talleyville Veterinary Hospital. She has a special interest in feline medicine and surgery, geriatric medicine, and dentistry. Dr. Stoltzfus was inspired to be a veterinarian from an early age after reading James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. The most memorable part of her career was when she volunteered in the Himalayas. She participated in a spay/neuter and rabies vaccination project and was lucky to be called upon to help a local leopard at the Royal Himalayan Zoo (surgery at 12,000ft outdoors)! In her spare time she volunteers her time at Faithful Friends Shelter. Dr. Stoltzfus is a member of American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Feline Practitioners, Cornell Feline Health Center, Delaware Veterinary Medical Association, American Veterinary Dental Society, International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management, and American Animal Hospital Association. She has served the local veterinary community as Newcastle County representative for the DVMA Board and is accredited by the USDA.She and her husband, David, have a family of animals including a Dalmatian, Rudy; Terrier mix, Fongo; American Staffordshire, Jack; and a Himalayan cat, Muffin. In her spare time, Dr. Stoltzfus enjoys Tae Kwan Do, skiing, bicycling, and gourmet food.
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