February is National Pet Dental Health Month. 80% of our pets have some degree of dental disease by the time they are 3 years of age, and dental disease is one of the leading causes of major health issues for household pets today. Dogs have 28 teeth as puppies, they will lose most of them by 6 months of age (small dogs by 8 months), and have 42 teeth as adults. Cats have 30 adult teeth. Can you imagine how your mouth would feel, taste, or look and smell if you were to go weeks or months without brushing your teeth? YUK!! I cannot imagine mom brushes our teeth.
Let’s start by having you take a close look to evaluate your pet’s mouth for signs of dental disease.
- Smell – bad breath is the most common sign of dental disease. You should not notice a bad odor (halitosis) coming from your pet’s mouth.
- Gums – healthy tissue should be a uniform pink (some dogs have black pigments in their mouth) with a thin margin tight against the surface of the tooth. Soft tissue inflammation, redness or swelling indicates gingivitis or gum disease. Sometimes hair gets stuck in between the gums and the tooth causing soft tissue trauma.
- Look for retained baby teeth that did not come out properly or for chips in the glossy enamel surface on the tooth.
- Tarter (hard) and Plaque (smeary) – the tooth enamel should be a uniform color from the top of the tooth all the way to the gum-line. You should not find colored (creamy – yellow – brown – black) accumulation of tartar or smeary plaque at the gum-line. Both sides of the mouth should look about the same with even distribution of accumulation, if much heavier on one side, it could mean your pet has enough pain they do not chew on the heavy tartar side.
- Signs of more severe dental disease include: dropping food when eating or chewing, weight loss or decreased appetite, swelling around the roots of the teeth, visible roots on teeth, loose teeth, or nasal discharge.
Dental disease is a painful condition…..Think back to your own experience as to what sores or red gums in your own mouth felt like, or what kind of pain you experienced with a damaged tooth…. We, pets, are much more stoic and complain far less than people do when we are in pain. Small dogs are more prone to dental disease than are large dogs because each tooth has much less bone and soft tissue for structural support and to keep the tooth healthy.
There can be consequences from dental disease to the major organs in the body. These consequences are greatest for those that have both dental disease and another compromised organ. The mouth has a great blood supply to the tissues and abundant bacterial flora that live there. Bacteria from the mouth have easy access to the blood stream, and can be then carried to the other major body organs, like the heart, liver, lungs, and kidneys. If your pet has internal organs that have compromised function already, the additional insult from bacteria can become a major problem. Think healthy mouth = healthy body.
More than 2/3 of pet owners report they have never brushed their pet’s teeth. Only 2% of dog owners brush their dog’s teeth at least twice a week. 27% of owners admit they provide NO home or professional dental care for their pet at all. How often do you go to your dentist to have your teeth professionally cleaned? (…..and you brush your teeth daily?)
3 steps to complete dental care for pets:
- Professional care – veterinary prophylactic cleaning. Thorough ultrasonic cleaning and scaling of each tooth (including below the gum-line) then polishing as the basic procedure. In some cases we may need to include x-rays to evaluate the teeth. This process does require your pet to be under anesthesia for cleaning (my mom needs to keep her fingers!) and the procedure takes 30-60 minutes to thoroughly clean the teeth.
- Regular tooth brushing at home – ideally done every day. Some training will be necessary for your pet to readily accept and cooperate with daily tooth brushing because it needs to be a positive good experience. Ask, if you need tips on training brushing behaviors, our mom will happy to help.
- VOHC – the logo for the “Veterinary Oral Health Council” will be displayed on dental products that are approved to be effective in reducing tartar and plaque on your pet’s teeth. (If you cannot locate this symbol you may not be using an effective product.) Chews, toothpaste, supplements, and dental diets which have VOHC endorsement can be a very helpful tool for maintaining your pet’s teeth at home. Check out www.VOHCaccepted products. Lists for both cats and dogs available.
A healthy mouth is an extremely important part of having an overall healthy pet!
Show off your beautiful smile!