Oral health is an important component of your pet’s preventive healthcare plan. At Lawndale, we see it as a great way for you to ‘Paws to Protect’ your pet year-round!
Oral Health Overview:
When we talk about oral health, we generally mean that your pet’s teeth, gums, and oral cavity appear healthy and in good condition. The teeth appear normal and clean, and there are no irritated areas on the gum line or soft tissues in the oral cavity. There is also no evidence of pain or discomfort anywhere in the mouth. If we see changes in the health of teeth or gums, we call that dental disease or periodontal disease.
What is Dental Disease?
Changes in the teeth and/or periodontal tissues (the tissues that support the teeth) mean the patient has general dental disease. The tricky part about dental disease is that what we see on the surface of the tooth may or may not predict how bad things are under the gum line.
The process of change begins when plaque coats the surface of the tooth due to the secretions of bacteria in the mouth. Then, salivary secretions adhere to this film and harden to form tartar/calculus (which is much more difficult to remove than plaque). This is where it gets tricky, because the process does not stop on the surfaces of the teeth. The plaque and calculus can also develop under the gum line (where you cannot see!). In this location, inflammation develops which can lead to pain and tissue destruction (including bone loss around the teeth). At this point, we call the condition periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease can be classified into 4 different stages, with ‘1’ being the least severe and ‘4’ being the most severe. The American Veterinary Dental College has a great handout on these stages.
Consequences of Dental Disease:
If your pet has dental or periodontal disease, you may see any of the following signs:
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Teeth that appear dirty (from plaque and calculus)
- Loose teeth
- Gingivitis (inflammation of the gum line)
- Oral bleeding (from periodontal disease)
- Mouth pain
- Decreased appetite or dropping food from the mouth (from pain and increased sensitivity in the mouth)
- Weight loss (if not eating well)
- More grumpy / behavior changes (from having mouth pain)
Importantly, dental disease can also have systemic consequences on the body. Bacteria involved with periodontal disease can also get into the blood stream. From there, the bacteria can travel throughout the body and cause problems in places such as the heart, kidneys, or even cause changes in insulin resistance.
Home Dental Health Options:
Thankfully, dental disease is something we can avoid, or at least work to minimize the consequences. As a pet owner, you have a variety of options to choose from. Often, utilizing multiple methods will give the best results.
- Brush teeth: This will not only help to remove the plaque before tartar can develop, it will also give you a regular glance into your pet’s mouth so you can catch problems early. Be sure to start slowly if this is new to your pet. Here are a few pointers to follow: (1) Use a pet finger brush or a soft bristled child’s toothbrush. (2) Only use toothpaste approved for pets. Your pet will likely ingest some of the toothpaste, so we need to be sure it is safe. (3) For best results, brush daily.
- Oral rinses or gels containing chlorhexidine can be beneficial. Chlorhexidine is an antiseptic that will work against the accumulation of plaque.
- Consider feeding a diet that has been studied and shown to help with dental care. For example, Hill’s Pet Nutrition has a line called ‘Healthy Advantage Plus Oral Care’ (dogs and cats) and a prescription diet called ‘t/d’ (dogs and cats) that both work to minimize dental problems.
- Utilize treats formulated for dental care. Look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval to be sure the treat really does work to slow the accumulation of plaque and tartar. As with any treat, make sure you monitor your pet’s intake so weight is not impacted. Also, for treats that are chews, supervise your pet.
- Chew toys, used regularly, can also assist in plaque removal. Make sure the toy is suitable for your dog’s level of chewing (we don’t want dogs ingesting the toys and getting them stuck in the intestines!).
Dental Cleanings in the Veterinary Office:
If your pet is already showing signs of plaque and tartar accumulation and/or periodontal disease, it may be best to have your pet’s teeth cleaned under general anesthesia while also implementing home dental care (see above). Anesthetic dental cleanings are the best way to thoroughly clean the teeth (including under the gum lines). Additionally, it allows our doctors to assess the extent of the dental disease in detail so we can make our best treatment recommendations. Sometimes the decision is made to extract an unhealthy tooth. This decision is based on multiple factors. If a tooth is at the point of needing extraction, your pet will definitely feel better with the unhealthy tooth removed. Read about dental extractions to learn more.
Check out these ‘Before’ and ‘After’ pictures from a dental cleaning:
Is It Time For a Dental Evaluation?
Does your pet have any of the signs listed above? Do you have any concerns about your pet’s oral health?
If so, then schedule a time for one of our doctors to examine your pet. Together, we can develop a year-round dental health plan that will work for both you and your pet!
American Veterinary Dental College information for pet owners
AVMA Dental Health Month Resources
~Author: Dr. C. Noureddine, DVM, MS