Dental care is an important aspect of your pet’s health, and is often overlooked for multiple reasons. It is our job as veterinarians to ensure that your pet is living a healthy, pain free, and prolonged life. Dental disease, left undetected, or unmanaged can lead to serious illness, pain, weight loss, and even behavioural changes. In order to ensure that your animal stays healthy, an annual examination including assessment of the oral cavity is crucial.
As a puppy or kitten, we like to introduce preventative care with teeth brushing as young as 10 weeks old. It is an ideal time to get your pet used to the handling of their mouths and the feel of a toothbrush on their teeth. Start by playing with their muzzle and lips until eventually they are comfortable with you rubbing a finger along the gum line. A pet-friendly toothpaste from your veterinary clinic will have a yummy flavour and will help to keep this time both fun and positive (avoid using a human toothpaste, as it can be toxic). Gently move the toothbrush back and forth at a 45° angle along the outsides of the teeth. Brushing the teeth along the insides is not as necessary and can prove difficult. Ideally, brush a minimum of three days per week.
While brushing your pet’s teeth is the best preventative maintenance, it is not always an option. In these cases a routine scale and polish under anaesthesia is a great alternative, but can become pricey for several reasons. In humans it’s easy to visit a dentist and have a complete exam, radiographs and cleaning/polish without any sedation or anaesthesia. You can communicate with your dentist about any issues, and while you’re awake you can effectively protect your airway by swallowing. And let’s point out the obvious… you don’t bite, usually. In pets a thorough cleaning and any additional work requires a full general anaesthetic. This not only protects the pet’s airway from water spray, debris, etc. but also allows us to scale and polish the teeth, and detect any abnormalities present (i.e.: fracture, abscess, gum recession). Your pet will be able to have a safe, painless, and stress free dentistry under a general anaesthetic.
You may hear about “anesthesia-free” dentals; there are several reasons that the cleaning that is performed in these cases are not thorough. First, after the teeth have been cleaned on the inside and outside when under anesthetic, they are then polished. When cleaning the teeth and scraping away the tartar microscopic grooves are made in the teeth, it is the polishing procedure that will smooth those grooves. If those grooves are not smoothed, it will result in the tartar re-developing faster and more extensive than before. Secondly, and probably more importantly, is that the tartar and bacteria that are causing the real disease process that is occurring in dental disease occur below the gum line, we have yet to meet any dog or cat that will allow for the area below the gum line to be cleaned and assessed while not under an anesthetic.
Another option in preventing the build-up of dental tartar and plaque is feeding your pet dental food. Dental food is a well-balanced maintenance food that has interwoven fibres in it that helps to mechanically break up the tartar on the teeth as your pet chews the food. The food also contains enzymes that help to destroy the invisible plaque on the teeth (the culprit for the awful bad breath). So, essentially, whenever your pet is eating the dental food, they are brushing their teeth as well!!
Pets are very good at hiding pain, so sometimes they may look like they are doing just fine, when in reality they may have bad breath (halitosis), diseased teeth (periodontal disease), or problems that can cause pain (i.e.: tooth root abscess, fracture) or serious illness (i.e.: bacteria spreading from diseased teeth into the bloodstream). Sometimes a pet may avoid eating food on one side of the mouth because the other side is painful, or may even turn up his nose at kibble- opting for a softer and easier to chew option – so we think he’s a picky eater instead. These subtle changes are some examples of how your pet adjusts to dental pain without you knowing.
There are many additional options out there for dental care such as dental chews, water additives, gels, etc., but we need to start with a disease free base in order for these options to work effectively. That’s why starting at a young age, or having a dentistry procedure performed are the ideal times to introduce additional dental care options.
Talk to your veterinarian for more information and join us in February for Dental Month at The Animal Care Centre of Strathmore!