By Jaylynn Zepeda, Veterinary Technician
Dental hygiene is an important part of everyone’s daily routine. For many, this ranges from daily brushing to annual visits to your dentist for professional cleanings and other necessary treatments.
Our furry family members are not so different from us when it comes to keeping their teeth and overall mouths healthy. Dental hygiene should also be an important consideration when evaluating and maintaining a pet’s general wellness.
Now, not everyone’s cat or dog will sit still and smile while you brush their teeth with specially formulated, fluoride-free toothpaste that is safe for your pet. That’s where your veterinarian enters the picture with the knowledge, tools and appropriate medications needed to keep your pet’s mouth healthy! There are countless treat, chews and chew-bones that can be bought over the counter that claim to ensure oral health and fresh breath. Before choosing the right one for your dog or cat, make sure to check with your veterinarian that it is the right one for your pet. He or she will look for several aspects in dental chews before recommending them to their patients. It is important that the chews have beneficial enzymes that help to fight/ break down tartar/plaque, that the chew is easily digestible so there is no risk of obstruction if the pet is not monitored while eating it, and lastly, it’s important to make sure that the chew isn’t going to cause any tummy upset.
As it is with any individual that values overall wellness, annual check-ups with a doctor are as important for pets as they are for people. Having a doctor assess your pets dental health during these annual health exams are an important component. Your veterinarian will look for any early stages of gingivitis (gum inflammation), tartar/plaque, gum recession, infection or abnormal tissues. An oral exam will also reveal tooth fractures, exposed roots, ulcers and countless other painful complications relating to your pet’s mouth. It’s important to address issues such as these promptly to ensure that they don’t progress or cause your pet any pain or discomfort. Many dental issues that plague our pets, even though they may not show signs and are often stoic, can be very painful and lead to other complications.
Depending on your pet’s age, breed, dental/oral confirmation and previous dental history; regular dental cleanings may be recommended by your veterinarian. In a very similar manner to our own professional dental cleanings, your pet’s dental cleaning will consist of removing any hardened tartar using specialized dental tools, cleaning the surfaces/ under the gumline with an ultrasonic cleaner, hand scaling surfaces/under the gumline, dental radiographs and a fluoride-free prophylactic paste. The need for further treatments such as extractions, antibiotic fillings or oral surgery will be assessed by your veterinarian and completed at their discretion.
Not even the sweetest and most well-behaved furry friends would consider letting us do any of these dental treatments fully awake. So, under general anesthesia and with close monitoring by a team of surgical nurses, your veterinarian will have your fur baby’s teeth pearly white again! But it’s not just about restoring Fido’s award-winning smile, it’s also about improving his health and overall quality of life. An unhealthy mouth isn’t just unpleasant to experience when you get a wet dog kiss in the morning or a grooming by your cat. It can actually lead to major heart issues, upper respiratory infections, ruptured tooth root abscesses and infections that can spread into the sinus cavity.
How does all that happen from dirty teeth? Tartar and plaque are what can be seen building up on the outside of your pet’s teeth, and are the result of bacteria that has collected on the surface of the teeth and hardened. This bacteria infiltrates under the gumline where we can’t see and starts causing all kinds of problems. The bacteria from the plaque and tartar can enter the bloodstream, not only by your pet continuously swallowing it when the eat or drink, but once it has had the opportunity to invade the gumline, it has invaded the bloodstream as well. This bacteria is carried through the bloodstream and filtered through all major organs including the heart and lungs. This can lead to heart disease, upper respiratory infections, coughing and so much more. While the bacteria is making its way through the bloodstream, it’s also causing the gums to recede and pull away from the tooth. This causes painful root exposure and the perfect pocket for a tooth root abscess (or pocket of infection). We see these tooth root abscesses most commonly in the canine teeth, which unfortunately is our most deeply rooted tooth. Once the infection is present in this root, it can communicate with the sinuses and deposit all the infection throughout the sinus cavities. All of these dental complications can be very painful and can sometimes even become emergency situations.
So, to keep your furry family member in great dental health with a white, award-winning smile, don’t forget to ask about his/her dental health at your next scheduled annual health exam. We like to see our “young at heart” pets that are over 7 years old twice a year since everything starts changing a little more quickly as we get older. Great dental hygiene starts at home with brushing and dental chews approved by your vet, but sometimes needs a little professional help with sedated dental cleaning, scaling and polishing. Dental radiographs are an excellent tool that our veterinarians use when accessing any root, gum or bone loss/ damage and can be helpful when extracting teeth. Dental health isn’t just important for our people-family; dental health is important for the entire family, including our furry four-legged family.