3 Steps to Developing Good Oral Health
If you’ve ever been to our clinic for a wellness visit, chances are high that we’ve talked to you about your pet’s oral health. Periodontal disease is the most common problem affecting dogs and cats of all age groups. In addition to causing teeth to fall out, diseases that affect the gums cause pain and infection. Periodontal disease can also have a secondary effect on major organs, causing or exacerbating organ system diseases.
The rate at which plaque becomes mineralized is much faster in some pets than in others. Age, breed and immune health all play a role. The older the pet, the longer dental disease has to accumulate. In addition, purebred cats, small dogs, and dogs with short muzzles are prone to overcrowding and rotation of teeth, as well as misalignment. This encourages the accumulation of food and debris between the teeth, leading to periodontal disease.
The good news is that every pet parent can establish good oral health. Regular home brushing combined with annual cleanings at your vet and an evidence-based dental diet will help keep your pet healthy.
- Begin regularly brushing your pet’s teeth at home. The best way to prevent tartar build-up is through daily tooth brushing using a toothpaste that is specifically formulated for pets and is designed to be swallowed. Simply use any soft toothbrush or surgical gauze wrapped around your finger, but do NOT use human toothpaste. Toothpastes specifically formulated for dogs and cats have a flavor your pet will love, making brushing more enjoyable for you both. We love and recommend Virbac C-E-T-Enzymatic Toothpaste which comes in multiple flavors. Start slow and make it fun. With practice, most pets willingly accept regular tooth brushing.
- Schedule a professional dental cleaning. Once tartar has formed on your pets teeth, it cannot easily be removed by diets and/or brushing. Professional scaling and polishing under general anesthesia will be needed. Tooth scaling will be performed using both traditional hand scalers and ultrasonic cleaning equipment to remove all traces of tartar, both above and below the gum line. After scaling, the teeth are polished to remove microscopic scratches that occur during scaling. This is essential to prevent plaque from easily sticking to the tooth’s enamel.
Special applications such as fluoride, antibiotic preparations, and cleaning compounds may be indicated to decrease tooth sensitivity, strengthen enamel, treat bacterial infection, and reduce future plaque accumulation. Sometimes antibiotic treatment is started before the periodontal therapy is performed, and X-rays are often utilized to assess the viability of the tooth root and surrounding bone. If periodontal disease is severe, it may not be possible to save the affected teeth; tooth extraction may be the only option.
- Choose a diet that has been specifically developed to enhance oral health. A diet’s texture and make-up can affect the environment of the mouth by maintaining tissue integrity, stimulating saliva production, altering plaque bacteria metabolism, and providing mechanical cleansing of tooth surfaces. The Veterinary Oral Health Council evaluates dental products for effectiveness and their seal of acceptance will only be found on products which have been shown to reduce the accumulation of plaque and/or tartar. Since plaque is the primary cause of periodontal disease, look for the VOHC seal that specifies plaque control. A complete list of all products (not just food) that have been awarded the VOHC seal is available at www.vohc.org.
With gentleness, patience, and perseverance you can provide the oral care your pet needs to prevent dental disease. Want to learn more about your pet’s dental health? Take this quiz!