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Taking Care of Teeth

Dental Issues and Your Pet’s Teeth

Did you know that 85 percent of our family pets over the age of four have some form of dental disease? This includes not only the tooth itself but also the gum tissue, or gingiva, and underlying bone. Dental disease, also referred to as periodontal disease, can affect your pet’s overall health. Severe dental disease can lead to problems with other organs including the heart, liver, and kidneys. There are many variables on why some pets develop periodontal disease and others are unaffected. Smaller dog breeds and animals with compromised health are more prone to have dental issues.

Periodontal disease begins when plaque adheres to the tooth and gum tissue. Plaque contains bacteria, food, and debris. The bacteria are usually the source of a pet’s bad breath – a common complaint from pet owners. Plaque will eventually turn into tartar, which is hard deposit on the tooth and can mineralize into a substance called calculus. Over time, the plaque and tartar accumulation lead to advanced periodontal disease, which can cause regression of gum tissue, exposure of the tooth root, and even the loss of teeth.

Because there are no dentists for cats and dogs, your pet’s dental care begins with a thorough examination at your veterinarian’s office. An examination of the mouth can reveal plaque and/or tartar accumulation, fractured teeth, or other structural abnormalities. If moderate to severe periodontal disease is present, your pet may require a dental cleaning. Sedation and anesthesia are necessary for further evaluation and cleaning. You should expect each tooth to be individually examined during this process and a periodontal probe used to measure gum pockets around each tooth. Scaling is the process by which Tartar is removed from the affected teeth. Typically a combination of hand scaling and ultrasonic scaling is used. After the scaling process, your pet’s teeth should be polished to smooth the surface of each tooth. If abnormal conditions are found, your veterinarian may take X-rays of the affected teeth. Fifty percent of the tooth is below the gum line so X-rays are an invaluable tool to evaluate not only the crown of the tooth but also the root and underlying bone. Many decisions about the affected tooth are based on the X-ray findings. If a tooth is significantly diseased, extraction may be necessary.

Dental disease can be reduced through home care and this process should begin when the pet is young. Daily removal of plaque is essential for oral health and is accomplished through brushing the teeth. A soft pet toothbrush or finger brush should be utilized with toothpaste from your veterinarian’s office or a pet supply store. Beware of letting dogs chew on very hard substances like horse or cow hooves because they can cause broken teeth. If your pet is resistant to daily brushing, then dental wipes, dental treats, or specially formulated dental diets can be used.

As pet owners we are responsible for keeping our pets teeth and gums healthy not only through home care but also with regular visits to the veterinarian. Veterinarians in turn are responsible for promoting the importance of dental hygiene. Good dental health is vital to our pets overall well-being.

Jane Hiser, DVM, CCRP, is an associate at Quioccasin Veterinary Hospital. Her areas of interest include internal medicine, physical therapy, and ultrasound. She is married with a six-month-old son.
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