4 Signs of Dental Trouble
“Dogs and cats do not have self-cleaning teeth,” says Dr. Bernadine Cruz of Laguna Hills Animal Hospital in Laguna Woods, California. “If their teeth are not taken care of properly, a large percentage of pets will have some type of dental disease by 4 years of age.” Fortunately, caring for your pet’s teeth can be as easy as caring for your own.
Dental woes are more than just a toothache; they can also pose a serious threat to your pet’s well-being. That is because the condition of your pet’s teeth and gums can directly affect her overall health. Read on to learn about the top four signs of poor dental hygiene and the best ways to combat them.
#1 BAD BREATH
How often have you gotten eye to eye with a furry friend only to be put off by her breath? We usually explain away a pet’s bad breath as simply being “dog breath” or “cat breath,” as if it is a normal part of her being. However, unless your pet has just eaten something stinky such as tuna, it is important to recognize that bad breath is not normal and usually indicates a problem with her dental health.
#2 DISCOLORED TEETH
Healthy canine and feline teeth are white. Any discolorations or stains should be examined by your veterinary team. In addition, buildup or darker areas on your pet’s teeth, particularly around the gumline, is another sign that something isn’t right with her dental health.
#3 RED, SWOLLEN, OR BLEEDING GUMS
Healthy gums are pink. Gums that are red and swollen or are bleeding need attention.
#4 LOOSE TEETH
Unless your pet’s jaw has been injured, loose teeth can be an indication of bone loss. You can determine if teeth are loose by gently pressing on them.
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
All of the above problems are signs of periodontal disease, a disease that attacks the gums and teeth and can cause potentially life-threatening infections. Here is how it happens: Plaque builds up on your pet’s teeth after eating. If it is not brushed away within 24 to 36 hours, it hardens into a yellow or brown substance called tartar, which can only be removed by a veterinarian. Over time, tartar that remains on your pet’s teeth also builds up under the gums. Tartar and bacteria eventually separate the gums from the teeth, forming gaps or pockets that encourage even more bacterial growth. At later stages of the disease, surgery may be needed to repair the damage, and affected teeth may need to be pulled.
Periodontal disease is painful for your pet and can lead to abscesses and loss of bone and teeth. It also presents other health risks. “If left untreated, dental disease can spread infection throughout the body,” explains Dr. Cruz. “The gums act as a boundary between your pet’s mouth and the rest of her body. When the health of the gums is compromised, the bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause infection in your pet’s joints, liver, lungs, kidneys, and heart.”
PREVENTION IS THE KEY
The good news is that you can prevent periodontal disease in your pet. Caring for her dental health really comes down to three simple steps:
Have your pet’s teeth cleaned professionally by your veterinarian on a regular basis.
Brush your pet’s teeth daily to help remove the buildup of plaque.
Pay attention to your pet’s dental health. Check on her teeth and her gums regularly.
VISIT YOUR VETERINARIAN
The first step in ensuring that your pet’s teeth are taken care of is to take her for professional dental cleanings. “A professional cleaning is an excellent way to prevent a health problem before it starts,” says Dr. Cruz.
Start with a clean slate: Before beginning dental care at home, ask your veterinary team to evaluate your pet’s teeth.
For pets with healthy teeth and gums, cleanings are usually done about once a year. Pets that have periodontal disease may require more frequent visits. Your veterinarian will recommend a cleaning schedule based on your pet’s needs. Every pet is unique when it comes to dental disease. “Genetics, breed, and luck all play a part in how often you will need to have your pet’s teeth professionally cleaned,” Dr. Cruz says.
One method of cleaning is to use an ultrasonic scaler. Its metal tip moves quickly and vibrates debris and plaque off teeth. Similar to what happens during a trip to your own dentist, your pet’s teeth will be cleaned both above and below the gumline and then polished.
Administering anesthesia is necessary for the procedure because most pets would not sit still for their teeth to be cleaned under the gumline. Your veterinary staff will take plenty of precautions to make undergoing anesthesia as risk free as possible for your pet.
Pain caused by periodontal disease can be prevented through regular professional dental cleanings and home care.
Your veterinarian will perform a preanesthetic exam and will most likely recommend a blood profile screening, which can rule out any preexisting problems that could affect the use of anesthesia. In addition, “you can be reassured that today’s anesthesia is extremely safe,” reports Dr. Kenneth Lyon, a board-certified veterinary dental specialist who practices at Arizona Veterinary Dentistry and Oral Surgery in Gilbert, Arizona. Recent clinical advances in anesthesia help ensure that your pet will be alert and virtually back to normal shortly after the cleaning.
Home care is an essential part of keeping your pet’s teeth in tip-top shape. “The best time to start a dental routine is when you first bring home a puppy or kitten,” Dr. Cruz explains. “Your first goal is just to get her used to having her teeth and gums touched.”
Dr. Lyon suggests starting by simply wiping your pet’s teeth with a damp washcloth wrapped around your finger. Offer your pet lots of praise for being cooperative. After she has gotten used to the washcloth, she can graduate to a toothbrush. This method can also work on an older pet that has not previously received home dental care.
Once you are ready to start brushing your pet’s teeth, you will need two essentials:
Toothpaste specially formulated for pets. Pet toothpaste comes in all kinds of interesting flavors, including vanilla, beef, chicken, and seafood. It is best to stay away from human toothpaste, which can irritate your pet’s stomach if she swallows it.
A toothbrush. A soft toothbrush or one that has been specially developed for pets (e.g., a little rubber finger brush for cats, a smaller brush for small dogs) is your best bet. You can always ask your veterinarian for advice on making the brushing experience a positive one for you and your four-legged friend.
You will find that regular professional cleanings as well as the simple act of daily brushing will help keep your pet healthier throughout her life. A little extra care in the short run will lead to important health benefits for years to come.
TOOTH BRUSHING TIPS
Dampen the toothbrush first.
Press the toothpaste down to the bottom of the brush. This will help keep your pet from licking the toothpaste off the brush.
Take your time introducing this new routine into your pet’s life.
FIGHTING DENTAL DISEASE WITH FOOD
Diet can play a role in maintaining your pet’s dental health. Specially formulated dental diets are effective in fighting plaque and tartar buildup. For added assurance, look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s (VOHC) Seal of Acceptance. You can also ask your veterinary staff which diet they recommend.
A SUCCESS STORY: PERRY
Before: At 7 years old, Perry had not received any dental care and, as a result, was suffering from inflamed gums and bad breath. To correct Perry’s poor dental health before it worsened, his veterinarian gave this Australian shepherd a thorough oral exam, followed by appropriate periodontal therapy that included scaling above and below the gumline. In addition, Perry’s owner was given simple maintenance recommendations:
Start Perry on Hill’s® Prescription Diet® Canine t/d® right away
Begin brushing Perry’s teeth with pet toothpaste
Bring in Perry for annual oral exams
After: As it turned out, Perry was not willing to have his teeth brushed, but he did enjoy eating his new Canine t/d® dental diet. At the recheck visit, Perry’s veterinarian assured the owner that Canine t/d® has been shown to be effective even without toothbrushing. The owner was relieved and is happy that Perry’s risk of dental disease will be reduced because of the regular dental exams and the new food.