Dental care is all too often neglected in our pets. When was the last time you checked your pet’s teeth? Have you raised his or her lip to look at the teeth and gums, especially far back in the mouth? If you haven’t, you may be in for a surprise.
Animals, like people, suffer from the build-up of tartar (calculus). Some breeds of dogs and cats have more dental disease than others. This is due to genetics, the way the teeth fit in the mouth, (crowding or malocclusions) the type of food they eat and how they chew.
The diagnosis of dental disease is fairly easy. A yellowish-brownish firm material will be seen extending from the gum line across the surface of the tooth. This material is mineralized food particles and bacteria. A few teeth may be affected or the whole mouth may be affected.
If tartar remains on the teeth, the bacteria invade the gum line and cause red, swollen and painful gums. The gums may bleed. This is gingivitis. These pets have pain while eating. You may also notice their breath becoming more unpleasant.
If this level of dental disease goes unchecked, the loss of teeth is not far behind. The loss of teeth is bad enough, but the presence of this chronic infection in the mouth can put other parts of your pets’ body at risk too. The heart and the kidney are very susceptible to “bacterial showers” that originate in the mouth.
The best treatment for dental disease is really prevention. Daily brushing of the teeth with animal toothpaste is highly recommended. A child's toothbrush or the rough side of a washcloth will work fine. Special pet toothbrushes are also available. With patience and praise, most pets can learn to accept tooth brushing. There are also a lot of dental chews on the market that can help maintain clean teeth.
If dental disease is already present, ultrasonic scaling is needed to remove the plaque and clean under the gum line. The teeth are polished to smooth the enamel surface. If any of the teeth are too diseased to save, extractions can be performed. General anesthesia is needed for an effective and safe dental procedure. For some pets this procedure is an annual event, for others, it may happen once or twice in a lifetime and a few lucky ones won’t need it at all.