Dental Health Month

January 16, 2011

 February is National Dental Health Month. During the month of February, many veterinarians are offering discounts on dental care or dental products and these promotions are very popular, so appointments fill up fast. You may need to contact your veterinary office now to take advantage of February promotions.

How do you know if you need to take advantage of dental care month promotions for your pet? The answer to that is pretty simple: you probably do. Eighty percent of all dogs and seventy percent of cats over 3 years of age have some form of dental disease. So why is this disease so ignored by pet owners? Mostly because you can’t see it. A dog will often come to see me for a mild skin disease that is bothering the owner because it makes the dog scratch or because it is smelly. During the course of the exam I find severe dental disease that is causing pain for the dog. Yet, the owner doesn’t want to deal with the disease in the mouth because they can’t see it.

Dogs and cats hide pain in their mouths by chewing on the opposite side of the mouth or by swallowing their food whole. You won’t get symptoms of drooling, pawing at the mouth or loss of appetite until periodontal disease is extremely advanced. Please, for your pet’s sake, don’t wait this long. A veterinary dentist once told me that pets continue to eat, because if they didn’t, then they would have a toothache AND be hungry. Might as well alleviate at least one of those discomforts. I remind people that if your pet had nasty, stinky infections on their toes, you’d treat it. So why not in his mouth? Our pets deserve better. Maybe some of these tips will help.

 Remember that dental disease doesn’t affect just your pet’s mouth. Periodontal disease is a silent killer that starts with a bacterial infection in the mouth. The bacteria then sneak through the blood stream to the heart, lungs or kidneys where they exacerbate existing disease or cause disease by themselves.

The first sign of periodontal disease is bad breath, and it shouldn’t be ignored. If plaque is present as a brownish staining of the teeth, or stage one periodontal disease, it is time to initiate an aggressive brushing or dental chew program. Nothing beats brushing a pet’s teeth daily with a pet-friendly enzymatic toothpaste, but if you didn’t start doing this when your pet was a baby, he or she may not tolerate it. The second best thing that I have found are the raw-hide chews that have been infused with an enzymatic toothpaste. These work well for the back teeth where most of the chewing occurs, but it doesn’t work well for the teeth toward the front of the mouth. Don’t use human toothpaste. Pets hate the sweet flavors, it can make them throw up, and it doesn’t have the enzymes in it that help to break up the plaque. Unlike human toothpastes, pet pastes are safe to be swallowed, so there is no rinsing necessary.

If there is a black line where the teeth meet the gums, your pet is into stage 2 periodontal disease and the bacteria has made its way under the gum line. You won’t be able to get this off with brushing or chews, so you need to schedule a professional dental cleaning with your veterinarian.

Your pet has stage 3 periodontal disease when calculus had formed. When this happens, you have missed your opportunity for a simple cleaning. These teeth need to be x-rayed for disease under the gum, cleaned and if pockets of detached gum are forming around the teeth, then your veterinarian will need to perform some form of periodontal treatment and you will need to maintain an aggressive home-care regimen to save the affected teeth. Unfortunately, once calculus has formed, it is hard to tell how bad the periodontal disease is until the pet is anesthetized. Sometimes we find stage 4 and 5 periodontal disease under the calculus. These pets will require tooth extractions or root canal therapy. So, when you bring your pet in to have that mouth cleaned up, be available for your veterinarian to call you in the middle of procedure if he or she finds periodontal disease beyond stage 3. This can lead to increased costs to you, but treating these bad teeth immediately brings immediate comfort and relief to your pet. I have seen that once painful teeth are removed, older pets suddenly act like they did when they were younger. A decrease in activity that you are allotting to “old age” could very well be from an achy painful mouth. You won’t know until you have that periodontal disease treated.

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