February is National Pet Dental Health Month and the perfect time to take a look at your pets' oral care. But good dental care is something pet parents should be focusing on all year long.
Unfortunately, dental care is often ignored by pet owners. One survey notes that just 1 out of 10 owners makes sure their pets' teeth are cared for. Although dogs and cats rarely get cavities, the plaque and tartar that do form can cause gingivitis and periodontal disease. This can lead to tooth decay, bleeding gums and tooth loss. The bacteria that causes all of this can travel through the bloodstream and eventually damage the major organs.
Proper pet dental care begins with a trip to the veterinarian for a dental exam, which should be done once a year. If your veterinarian sees plaque or tartar buildup, a cleaning may be necessary.
Afterwards, it is important to begin a home dental program. This is easier when your pet is very young, so he or she is used to brushing. Nutritional supplements and specially formulated foods designed to remove buildup are also effective. Look for the “Seal of Acceptance of the Veterinary Oral Health Council” on foods to determine if they meet the defined standards for plaque and tartar control.
In the meantime, there are things you can do at home to help your pets' teeth stay healthy and strong - during National Pet Dental Health Month and all year long.
Celebrate National Pet Dental Health Month With These Terrific Tooth Tips!
Clean Canine Canines
White, healthy teeth help form the foundation for any canine's overall strong bill of health. But similar to with humans, dogs' teeth are prone to plaque buildup. When allowed to combine with saliva and residual food between the tooth and gum, plaque turns to tartar. If plaque and tartar are not removed routinely by your veterinarian, they may cause periodontal disease.
The most common disease afflicting small animals, periodontal disease is a bacterial infection of the mouth. Its stages of severity progress from plaque and mildly inflamed gums to established gingivitis (gum disease) and, ultimately, the onset of full-fledge periodontal disease, which can result in tooth loss.
Preventive dental care represents one of the most neglected pet health needs. Periodontal disease is painful, and it's up to us to take responsibility for our dogs' care. If you think your dog may have periodontal disease, schedule an appointment to have your veterinarian perform an oral exam.
How to Tell if Your Dog Has Dental Disease
While you may not have a veterinary degree, your sensory perceptions can provide a strong indication of whether your canine is suffering from periodontal disease. Halitosis - or bad breath - is the most common sign of oral disease, and buildup of yellow and brown tarter on the tooth surface serves as the most obvious visual clue.
Other signs of canine periodontal disease include:
- Loose teeth
- Lack of appetite
- Difficulty chewing
- Bleeding gums
- Pawing at the mouth
As a dog owner, you should monitor your canine for potential dental conditions. However, it's also important to realize that some periodontal disease may not be visible to even the most experienced observer. Consequently, a complete periodontal examination - including dental X-rays - may be necessary to uncover all types of oral disease.
Keeping Your Dog's Teeth Healthy
Like daily walks for exercise, proper dental care should be a regular part of your program for keeping your canine healthy and happy. It's often overlooked, but pets can suffer the same kinds of dental problems as humans, including severe pain, infection, and tooth loss. You can help prevent and treat issues associated with periodontal disease by working closely with your veterinarian.
Dogs should have dental exams every 6-12 months, depending on age. During a dental exam, a veterinarian will examine your dog's teeth and gums in much the same way that a dentist looks at yours. The examination will include a visual and manual inspection to check for signs of gum disease, tooth discoloration, loose teeth, and indications of sensitivity or pain.
Your veterinarian will clean your dog's teeth if there is a buildup of tartar or plaque. This can be done ultrasonically just as it's done for humans. Your vet will probably recommend removing loose teeth and advise either removal or a root canal procedure if there's tooth decay. Depending on the nature of the procedure, your dog may need to be immobilized using anesthetics.
Flawless Feline Fangs
Pristine teeth often symbolize good health. But just like humans, cats' teeth are prone to plaque buildup. When this plaque combines with saliva and residual food between teeth and gums, tartar is formed.
If plaque and tartar are not removed routinely by your veterinarian, they may cause periodontal disease. Often referred to as gingivitis in its early stages, periodontal disease is caused by a buildup of plaque and tartar below the gum line. This painful and progressive gum disease causes inflammation and can ultimately lead to tooth loss.
The most common signs of periodontal disease in cats include:
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth
- Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums)
- Yellow and brown tartar buildup
- Lack of appetite
- Bleeding gums
- Pawing at the mouth
Veterinary Care for Your Cat's Teeth
Fortunately, veterinary dental knowledge has grown exponentially in the last few years. Dental technology has also exploded, allowing your pet virtually all of the dental care that you receive, including: Dental implants, braces (to enable a comfortable bite), root canals, and tooth bonding.
Veterinary care should include periodic dental exams, which are important in order to maintain good oral health. The frequency with which dental examinations should be performed typically ranges from 6-12 months, depending on your cat's age.
Your veterinarian can examine your cat's teeth in the exam room if your pet is cooperative and does not have severe dental problems. Otherwise, use of anesthesia may be necessary. Full mouth X-rays are usually required because 70 percent of the tooth structure is beneath the gum line and thus is invisible to the naked eye.
Brushing Your Pets' Teeth
Tooth brushing is the single most important part of oral care and cannot be overemphasized - for both dogs and cats.
Here are guidelines to follow for brushing your pets' teeth:
- Brushing should be done with a brush designed to remove plaque from under the gum line.
- Pick a time of day that will become a convenient part of you and your pet's daily routine. Brushing before receipt of a treat can help your pet actually look forward to brushing time.
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and veterinary toothpaste.
- Start by offering your pet a taste of the veterinary toothpaste. Then, next time, have him taste the toothpaste, running your finger along the gums of his upper teeth. Repeat the process with a toothbrush until your pet develops a comfort level.
If all that your pet lets you brush is the outside of the upper teeth, you are still addressing the most important area of periodontal disease - prevention. But, if your pet eventually allows you to brush most of his teeth, that's even better.
Even with effective toothbrushing, some pets may still need an occasional professional cleaning, just like humans. But by regularly brushing your pet's teeth, you can furnish him with a healthier smile.
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