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Dentistry in Dogs
All of us know about the benefits of routine dental care for ourselves. Daily brushing and flossing, and regular visits to the dentist, keep our teeth and gums healthy and comfortable. Unfortunately, routine dental care is still an often neglected item of canine health care. Your pets, as well as you, deserve regular dental care.
After your pet reaches a few years of age, tartar begins to build up at the junction of the gums and teeth. If this tartar is not removed, it increases until it undermines the tissue and causes receding gums. The area then becomes infected. Infection leads to foul breath, as well as pain and a constant unsavory taste for the pet. If the situation is not remedied, severe gum infections, abscessed teeth and cheek ulcers will develop.
What is periodontal disease (POD) and how is it different from tartar?
Dental tartar consists of a mineral matrix containing millions of bacteria. 80% of tartar is actually living organisms. As soon as tartar starts pressing against or undermining the gum tissue, bacteria are no longer limited to the dental enamel. They begin to damage the tissue around the teeth and the attachments between teeth, bone and gum tissue. “Peri” means around, so periodontal disease is disease around the teeth.
The bacteria also infect the rest of the body. Bacteria end up in the bloodstream every time your pet eats and chews. This circulating bacterial load trickles out from the bloodstream into tissues, where the immune system tries to eliminate it, forming millions of microscopic abscesses. The primary organs to be affected by this onslaught are the heart valves, the liver, the kidneys, the lungs and the joints.
Pets with POD that is not promptly treated have a 1-3 year shorter life expectancy than pets with healthy teeth and gums. Periodontal disease is deadly – slowly. Most pet owners don’t think of dental care as being life-saving but that’s exactly what it is. By having your pet’s teeth cleaned and any infected teeth extracted, you are saving his or her life.
Are some dogs more prone than others?
The tendency to develop dental tartar and then periodontal disease is inherited. There are various factors in saliva that encourage or discourage plaque and tartar build-up. The hardness and thickness of the enamel on the teeth matters, too.The health and functioning of the immune system is a factor and so is age. The more pitted and worn the enamel gets from wear and tear over the years the faster plaque and tartar accumulate.
POD is also related to the pet’s size. The smaller the pet the more quickly tartar develops. All the toy breeds are very prone to POD – Yorkshire terriers, Maltese, toy and miniature poodles and Chihuahuas are especially at risk. Miniature schnauzers, Shetland sheepdogs, Brittany spaniels and greyhounds are also especially prone. As a general rule, periodontal disease tends to be slower to develop in large dogs, though it usually gets there eventually.
How Can Dental Disease Be Prevented?
You can help prevent dental problems in your pets by:
- Feeding a tartar control pet food, such as Purina DH or Hill’s T/D
- Daily or at least twice weekly brushing of your dog’s teeth, with a toothpaste made for pets
- Using Healthy Mouth water additive to reduce plaque bacteria
- Using healthy, tartar-prevention treats and chews, such as VeggieDents or Greenies
- Look for products that carry the VOHC seal logo, which means they have been clinically proven to work.
- Feeding an over-the-counter pet food formulated to reduce plaque and tartar. (These are usually not as effective as prescription diets.) Hill’s Oral Care and many Royal Canin diets made for small breeds are examples.
Just as with people, your pets will still require regular dental exams, and cleaning or extractions as necessary. Under general anesthesia the teeth are cleaned with an ultrasonic dental scaler much like the one your own dentist uses, and then polished. Polishing smooths the surface of the teeth to help discourage future tartar formation. Your pet will also receive a sealant treatment to help reduce plaque build-up.
Other more advanced procedures such as root canal work, restorations and even braces are also available should your dog or cat ever need them. We encourage you to be concerned about your pet's oral health, and to keep in mind the availability of effective treatments for dental problems in your dog or cat. Make dentistry a part of your pet's total health care plan, for a longer and happier life.