Don’t Forget to Floss!

by Gigi McWhirter

OK, so you may not floss your pet’s teeth, but just like you, your pet should not go years between dental exams and teeth cleanings.

Dogs and cats fall prey to the same oral issues as we do – plaque, gum disease, tooth decay and tooth loss are just a few things that can happen without proper dental care.

Periodontal disease in pets happens the same exact way as it does in humans. Plaque is formed when saliva, discarded mouth cells, food and other things attach to the teeth shortly after eating. Without proper care, plaque will build up. This leads to inflamed gums and then tooth decay. Inflammation then begins to destroy bone, which causes tooth loss and periodontal disease also known as gum disease.

Gum disease happens five times more often in pets than it does in people. In fact, 80% of dogs over 3 years old, have periodontal issues. Along with periodontal disease, they are also inclined to have fractured or broken teeth.

Your pet may be in pain, but you may never know it because they are evolved to hide it. Showing pain in the animal kingdom is a sign of weakness. Your dog may have bleeding gums and even an abscessed or broken tooth but will continue to eat and behave normally. As an owner, you are responsible for the health of their mouths.

Regular dental care includes:

  • brushing once a day
  • quality food
  • regular dental exams, x-rays and cleanings
  • veterinary-approved teeth cleaning treats and chew toys

Less than 1% of pet owners brush their pet’s teeth daily. It is very important that you use only toothpaste designed for animals to brush their teeth. DO NOT use human grade toothpaste.
If you start brushing the teeth during the first year of life, they become used to it and actually enjoy it. You can teach an older dog to like it, but it requires a bit of patience. Dog toothpastes have flavors they enjoy, such as chicken and beef. There are specially designed toothbrushes with longer handles and softer bristles, as well as one that fits over your finger.

When you take your pet for their dental exam, the vet will check for odor, which can indicate gum disease. They will also look for red, swollen and bleeding gums, as well as discolored, broken, loose or missing teeth, gum recession and tartar build-up.

Your veterinarian will grade the severity of any periodontal disease. He or she will then suggest an appointment for a dental cleaning also called a dental prophy. This is performed under general anesthesia because your pet will not tolerate the dental instruments needed to perform the procedures while awake.

The doctor and an assistant will clean, polish and check all the surfaces on the teeth. They will also be looking specifically for periodontal pockets around the teeth. The oral exam includes an evaluation for malocclusions, which happens when a tooth is touching another tooth or touching soft tissue or the palate. The doctor will check the entire tongue, cheek tissues, lip margins, jaw, TMJ joint and look for enlargements and swollen lymph nodes. He or she will also perform additional procedures including x-rays or extractions.

For more detailed information about your pet’s dental hygiene, consult with your favorite veterinarian, NOT Dr. Google.

Happy Tails to you!