Periodontal disease is the most common sickness suffered by all companion animals currently. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, more than 85 percent of dogs and cats show signs of oral disease by age 4. Beginning with inflamed gums, it leads to bone loss, destruction of mouth tissue, pain, and is an indicator for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In February, the entire veterinary community is promoting awareness of pet dental health because, just as with people, periodontal disease can be prevented. Some veterinarians offer reduced fees for dental cleanings and related procedures during the national awareness month.
Dental health promotion and disease prevention starts with removing plaque, which accumulates on pet teeth. Plaque is basically a sticky mix of food and bacteria which gets under the gum line and hardens into tartar. Then a vicious cycle starts of more plaque added to existing tartar, building a pile of plaque which develops into Gingivitis, starts destroying tissue, causing bone loss, tooth loss, even creates holes from mouth into nasal passages, weakening of the jaw bone, and finally fractures requiring bone grafts. When bacteria from periodontal disease travels into a pet's bloodstream, the lungs, heart, kidneys, liver and nervous system can be affected.
Pet catalogs and veterinary offices are stocked with effective DIY tools for the average pet owner. There are plenty of tips available to make it possible to get dogs and cats to cooperate in a routine for at-home dental disease preventative care. Once a veterinarian or dental specialist shows an owner what to do and what to watch for, regular home routines can be started for prevention and a budget can be started for cleanings every year or so. Although drinking water additives, chew toys, hard biscuit diets, are available, the most effective preventative is brushing a pet's teeth at least twice a week. Gauze, textured finger thimbles, and specially created soft pet toothbrushes are used with a pet paste. Of all the types of pet toothpaste available, the best have enzymatic action which works on the teeth even where the brush doesn't reach. The pastes are flavored with beef or chicken so that the pet thinks of it as a treat.
When it's time for a professional cleaning to remove ever accumulating plaque, the pet is put under a quick recovery type of anesthesia so that the technician can safely scrape with dental tools. There are strict laws in every state about who can perform pet dental procedures, including cleaning, and specific training is required for dental technicians working under direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian. The teeth are scaled above and below the gum line. Procedures can take from 45 minutes to two hours depending on the size of the pet and the problems discovered.
Non-anesthesia dental cleaning methods are available. However, nonprofessional services are virtually useless and professional veterinary cleaning without anesthesia is severely limited. Scaling even by trained specialists can achieve a cosmetic clean, but health concerns are not addressed because probing and scaling cannot go below the gum line even with the most cooperative pet. Dr. Jim Humphries of the Veterinary News Network cites an American Veterinary Dental Society report stating that much of pet dental disease can be detected only under anesthesia because 28 percent of dogs and 42 percent of cats have hidden problems requiring X-rays and prodding not possible with an awake pet who cannot understand what is going on.
The California Veterinary Medical Association recommends that between veterinary exams, owners check pets for these warning signs: bad breath, tartar buildup on the teeth, swollen, receding or bleeding gums, fractured or abscessed teeth, and/or a change in eating habits. February is the month to save money while learning how to protect pets from preventable health problems by contacting a veterinarian for reduced fees on dental procedures.
- Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help "Keep Tahoe Kind." Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.