Dental Health and Your Pets
Dogs, cats and humans share many common health issues, including dental care. Just as humans must practice good oral hygiene to stay healthy, more and more studies show that regular oral care also is important for your pet’s health. Proper oral hygiene can actually help your pet live a longer, healthier life.
Dental disease is the most common disease in dogs and cats. More than 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats over the age of 3 will have some form of periodontal or dental disease. Fido’s dog breath and Tabby’s tuna breath are not something to be ignored. This bad breath could be indicative of an oral problem, and the sooner you have it treated by your veterinarian, the sooner you and your pet can smile proudly. Therefore, it is up to the pet’s family and veterinarian to uncover this hidden and often painful condition.
The mouth of your pet is home to thousands of bacteria. Many of these bacteria will breed on the surfaces of the tooth and form an invisible layer called plaque. Some of this is removed naturally by the pet’s tongue and chewing habits, but if allowed to remain on the tooth surface, the plaque thickens, becomes mineralized and is then visible as tartar and ultimately, calculus. The tartar presses on the gums, which recede, causing inflammation and infection, called gingivitis. The gums continue to recede until, ultimately, the tooth socket is infected and the tooth is lost. In addition, the bacteria are absorbed into the blood stream and can be carried to other organs. Heart valve infections, kidney and liver problems are frequently caused by “bad teeth.”
Once tartar and calculus have attached to the tooth, professional dental scaling and polishing by your veterinarian will need to be performed. Your veterinarian will perform pre-anesthetic blood tests to ensure that kidney and liver function are satisfactory for anesthesia, and some pets will need to be treated with antibiotics before a full dental cleaning is carried out. Your veterinarian will discuss the specific pre-dental recommendations for your pet.
Tooth scaling will be performed using both hand scalers and ultrasonic cleaning equipment to remove tartar both above and below the gum line. The tartar beneath the gum line causes the most significant gum recession. The teeth then are polished in order to help prevent subsequent plaque build-up. It is recommended that all patients undergoing a professional dental cleaning also have full mouth radiographs (X-rays). Dental radiographs allow the veterinarian to visualize disease processes that are occurring below the gum line that would otherwise go undetected. Radiographs reveal tooth root abscesses, fractured roots, tumors, missing or multiple teeth, and root fragments left behind from previous extractions.
After the teeth are clean, and the oral examination and diagnostics are performed, it may be necessary to carry out other procedures, such as extractions or root planning. Other services, such as tooth sealants and antibiotic preparations, may also be indicated to decrease future plaque accumulation and bacterial infection. These procedures will be fully discussed both before your pet’s dental cleaning and when you bring your pet in for the procedure. Since it can be difficult to predict the extent of dental disease in advance of the procedure, it is imperative that your veterinarian is able to reach you during the procedure to discuss any additional treatment that may be necessary.
Your pet’s dental care does not rest with your veterinarian alone. As a pet owner, you play a pivotal role in helping ensure your pet’s dental health. Plaque and tartar begin forming in as little as six hours after your pet’s dental cleaning. A home dental care program is a must for all pets. Ask your veterinarian to provide you with detailed instructions on how to care for your pet’s teeth.
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