Pet Dental Health Is Crucial For Overall Health

February is National Pet Dental Health Month. Why, you may ask, is there a month devoted to our pets' oral care?

Because periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition occurring in adult cats and dogs. Tooth decay can lead to serious chronic conditions including kidney disease, liver disease, join problems, and heart disease.

By age 3 nearly 70 percent of cats and 80 percent of dogs develop gum disease.

The problem begins when bacteria in the mouth (plaque) begins to stick to teeth. As minerals in saliva harden the plaque, it becomes tartar. When plaque and tartar spread under the gum line (not visible), they begin to secrete toxins that damage tissue. The bacteria also stimulate the immune system causing inflammation. As white blood cells rush to destroy the bacteria invading the mouth, they become overwhelmed, releasing chemicals that can actually cause more damage.

Pets with dental problems often exhibit one or more of these symptoms:

  • Bad breath

  • Difficulty chewing

  • Pain while chewing

  • Drooling

  • Blood in the mouth

  • Pawing at the face

  • Discolored teeth

  • Red gums

  • Redness along the gum line

Diet can play a significant role in preventing dental disease. There is a misconception that dry pet food keeps the teeth and gums healthy. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true. The starches in dry food adhere to teeth, creating the perfect breeding ground for bacteria to grow. It's like telling you to eat granola and not brush your teeth to clean them. Even grain-free dry food is loaded with starch - it is what holds kibble together.

A raw food diet is most beneficial for a pet's dental health. Raw meat contains enzymes that are helpful in breaking down plaque and tartar. Be sure to feed a bio-appropriate raw diet that contains the proper ratio of meat, vitamins, minerals and fats. There are several excellent commercial foods as well as easy to follow homemade recipes for cats and dogs.

Easy Oral Care

Brush Your Pet's Teeth!

This can be done daily or at least a few times per week. Some pets actually enjoy it! The key is to start slowly by getting your cat or dog used to the feel of your finger against their teeth. After that, try either a finger brush or toothbrush made especially for pets. Just brush one tooth. Work your way up from there! There are a number of toothpastes for pets (never use toothpaste meant for humans on your cat or dog).

If your pet will not tolerate toothpaste, brushing daily with a little water can help prevent bacteria from sticking to the teeth.

There are also many enzyme-based dental products, including brushless gels, sprays, liquids and powders, that work quite well for most cats and dogs. The enzymes help prevent bacteria/plaque build up on the teeth. PetzLife Oral Care Gel (or spray), Oratene, PlaqueOff by ProDen, Breathless Plaque Zapper by Ark Naturals can be highly effective for most pets.

Earthbath has a convenient tooth wipe that is also very effective and quite easy to use.

Certain Pets Are Predisposed to Excessive Tartar Build-up

According to Karen Becker, DVM, Some raw fed pets that also chew raw bones still accumulate tartar on their teeth.

Brachycephalic (short-nosed) and toy breeds are often predisposed because their teeth don’t have normal alignment, and in the case of tiny dogs, there’s often a crowding problem. No matter how vigorously these dogs chew, it doesn’t remove all the plaque and tartar from their teeth.

Pets with chronic health conditions also seem to collect more tartar on their teeth. This could be due to less vigorous chewing, or it could be the result of changes in saliva quantity, gum health, the pH in the mouth, or other causes.

Many cats are also predisposed to have more tartar on their teeth, and kitties can present a special challenge because they don’t typically gnaw on bones like dogs do. Offering a skinless chicken neck may entice your cat to chew more, and provide enough mechanical abrasion to keep her teeth free from plaque build up.

This all brings us back to National Pet Dental Health Month

It is a reminder of how important it is to schedule an appointment with your vet so that your pet's teeth, gums and whole mouth can be examined. The earlier an issue is caught, the better.

If a professional cleaning is advised, blood work will be run to make sure your pet's organs are healthy enough for anesthesia. Many people are concerned with how anesthesia can affect their pet. There are very strict protocols in place for dental exams to help ensure your pet stays safe throughout the procedure.

You may be familiar with non-anesthesia dentals for pets. While this practice does have its place in removing plaque and tartar, it is a cosmetic procedure.

Cleaning under anesthesia is a very thorough process. Not only will the vet remove plaque and tartar from the teeth and under the gum line, a full examination of the gums and entire oral cavity is also conducted.

While your pet is under anesthesia, dental radiographs (x-rays) can also be taken. This will allow the vet to assess the bone level around the teeth. It is the best way to determine if extractions or other oral surgery is necessary.

All adult cats should undergo dental X-rays, as they are especially susceptible to a painful disease known as Odontoclastic Resorption/Tooth Resorption. This is the gradual destruction of a tooth or teeth caused by cells called odontoclasts. It usually starts on the outside of the tooth at the gum line, appearing as skin overgrowth or obvious lesions. Although most common in the lower jaw, resorption can occur in any tooth.

This extremely painful dental disease affects approximately 40 percent of healthy adult cats. Between 60 and 80 percent of cats that visit the veterinarian for treatment of dental disease suffer from tooth resorption. Tooth resorption is also referred to as:

  • Cervical line lesions

  • Resorptive lesions

  • Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs)

  • Cavities (which is inaccurate and misleading)

  • An exact cause for tooth resorption has not yet been identified. There may be a link between high levels of vitamin D in a cat's system and tooth resorption.

Cats are notorious for hiding their pain. That is why it is so important for guardians to recognize signs of oral discomfort:

  • Difficulty eating

  • Chewing only on one side of the mouth

  • Bleeding from the mouth

  • Drooling / excessive salivation

  • Bad breath

  • Behavioral changes (no longer wanting to play or cuddle, crabbiness)

If your cat or dog is exhibiting any signs of dental disease, including yellow teeth or red gums, please consult with your veterinarian. During the month of February, many veterinary practices are offering special discounted pricing on dental exams and cleanings.

Please do not let cost be the only factor in your decision. Be sure the veterinarian is an expert in dental care and that they follow the protocols set forth by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

To find a board certified veterinary dental specialist, visit the American Veterinary Dental College site.

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