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Dental disease — Let’s talk teeth…

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Let’s talk teeth… Some of you have cats or dogs with beautiful, sparkling, pearly-whites and healthy gums. If you’re one of these people, then lucky you! You’re in a perfect position to start preventative dental care for your pet! You see, we veterinarians don’t take much pleasure from extracting teeth. It’s really not that fun. We’d rather they stay healthy and in their proper place – your pet’s mouth. Not on our countertop.

So we want to keep our pet’s teeth healthy… Now what?

Technically, any treat or chew that cannot be bent or cannot be depressed with a fingernail has the potential to break teeth. Greenies are a very good treat to give that can help keep your pet’s teeth clean. A single layer rawhide-type chew that is bendable is also acceptable. Hill’s t/d diet is approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) and is formulated to help reduce tartar build-up; this is another option and can be given as a treat. Healthy Mouth makes a water additive that may also slow the accumulation of tartar. Some water additives contain an artificial sweetener called xylitol; too much of this is toxic to dogs, so read the dilution instructions carefully and store the concentrated solution away from the reach of your pets.

Oral rinses can also be helpful. CET makes a rinse with a user-friendly bottle. The rinse is not objectionable to most pets and contains chlorhexidine, an antiseptic that helps reduce the bacterial load on the teeth.

That being said, you want to know the best way to keep plaque at bay? The answer to that is the same as it is for us humans: daily brushing. Imagine if you went two years without brushing your teeth, then went to see your dentist. At the very least you’d have terrible breath, some aching teeth and active gingivitis. Despite the amount of dental disease you’d have, you’d probably still be eating. Cats and dogs don’t always show dental pain; they are actually rather masterful at hiding it. If Fluffy is eating well, that doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have dental disease.

Try to set aside about 20-30 seconds of time per day for brushing. Your pet will still need dental assessments and may need extractions at some point in life, but to a lesser frequency if preventative care is implemented.

To start, find a dog or cat toothpaste with a flavor they like. Don’t use human toothpaste; many of these are toxic to pets. First, put the toothpaste on your finger and swipe it on their nose or front teeth to entice them to lick it off. If they like the flavor of the toothpaste, then brushing their teeth will be that much simpler! Once you find a flavor they like, just use your finger (as long as you’re not in danger of being nipped!!) to wipe the paste on your pets canines and on the outside of the back teeth. Only do this for about 5 seconds at a time at first and make sure to reward them afterwards. Gradually build up to the 20-30 second goal (it may even take several weeks!) and using a soft bristle tooth brush or a finger tooth brush.

Let’s say that you have been a busy person and have committed the forgivable act of pet dental neglect. It’s ok. We’re all human and have to prioritize life sometimes. Maybe your pet has brown or even black tartar on his/her teeth, possibly has red and inflamed gums and perhaps breath that makes those friendly doggy-kisses feel like you’re sacrificing a significant degree of your personal hygiene upon accepting them. Brushing just won’t be enough to help and may even be painful for pets with gingivitis. Now what?

The benefit to having a professional dental cleaning/evaluation done earlier rather than later is that if periodontal disease is not too advanced, sometimes we can save the tooth! If a periodontal pocket is not too deep, and if the tooth root looks healthy on x-rays, then we can place antibiotic packing material into the pocket after we scale away tartar below the gum line. The goal is to potentially allow the gingiva to re-attach to the tooth. Some tooth fractures can be sealed to help prevent an abscess from developing down the road.

Sometimes, a tooth may have the potential to be saved via root canal; this is a technique performed by a board-certified veterinary dental specialist. If we encounter any teeth that are candidates for this procedure, we will offer a referral.

Remember, our goal is to save teeth! Not extract them! If, however, a tooth is in need of extraction, the pet is much more comfortable once this is done.

Also remember, just like with your own teeth, you won’t notice much of a difference each day after you brush. But again, like your own teeth, you know how bad they would look if you didn’t brush at all!

Let us know if you have any questions along the way! We are happy to help.
Darbie Cummings, DVM