February is National Pet Dental Month - A Healthy Mouth is A Healthy Pet!
Let’s talk about the most prevalent disease that affects our beloved furry family members; periodontal disease. Periodontal disease affects up to 85 of dogs and cats by the time they are 4 years old. It is estimated that 80 of people brush their teeth daily. What would you guess the percentage is for our canine and feline counterparts? Oral health is as important for our pets as it is for us.
Periodontal disease affects 4 types of tissues in the mouth that support the tooth structure; the gums (gingival), cementum (a boney like connective tissue that covers the roots of the tooth), the periodontal ligament (fibers that actually connect the tooth to your jaw bone) and the jaw bone itself which is called the alveolar bone.
The first stage of periodontal disease is gingivitis. This is the only stage that is reversible. It starts with plaque accumulation. Plaque is what we call a bio-film composed of mucin (which is a protein found in saliva), skin cells of the oral cavity, and bacteria (lots of them!). Once removed, plaque will reform within 24 to 48 hours.
The second stage of periodontal disease occurs when plaque has combined with mineral salts found in food and tartar has formed. Most humans stay within the tartar range, but since most of us do not take our animals in for their 6 month dental check up, animals develop something called calculus, which is a very thick layer of tartar. Once this calculus accumulates the bacteria levels have increased. Calculus is also really irritating to the gum tissues. The bacteria combined with the irritated tissues can change the pH of the mouth, allowing the bacteria to move under the gums. The waste product from these bacteria actually eats away at the supporting tissues, such as the periodontal ligament, resulting in a 25 loss of tooth support.
The third and fourth stage is a more progressive form of the first two stages which results in loss of the periodontal ligament and alveolar bone. Not only is this causing discomfort to your pet, but studies have shown, (in both humans and pets) that periodontal disease also affects other organ systems, causing kidney dysfunction, heart damage and even diabetes.
Prevention is the key. If your animal already has calculus formation, it must be removed professionally at your veterinarian’s office. Many people have concerns about placing their animal under anesthesia and have heard about “anesthetic-free” dental cleanings. These are usually performed by non-licensed individuals who have had minimal training. This is considered practicing veterinary medicine without a license and is illegal. Firstly, bacteria found inside the mouth becomes aerosolized when being removing mechanically. When your animal is having a professional cleaning, an endotracheal tube is placed into the trachea to provide a pathway for the gas anesthetic to reach the animal. This endotracheal tube also protects the lungs from these bacteria, preventing a lung infection. The animal is not protected if they are awake. Secondly, it can be very painful to the animal, particularly if there is an infection. Thirdly, this type of “cleaning” can do more damage than good, for both the operator as well as the animal. The facilitator getting bit by the animal is only one hazard. If the animal makes a sudden movement, oral tissue can be profoundly damaged.
Once your animal has had their teeth professionally cleaned, you may start on a home routine. Your veterinary assistant can show you techniques that will effectively remove plaque formation. While there is a flood of products on the market that claim to keep your pet’s mouth in excellent shape, nothing takes the place of mechanically removing the plaque.
One of the first things to note is that you must be dedicated to this. The “occasional brushing” defeats the entire purpose. It must be done on a regular basis, minimally three times a week. The ideal scenario would be a daily cleaning for your pet. If you do start a home regimen, remember, animals do not spit and fluoride is toxic if swallowed. You need to be sure that you are using an animal specific dentifrice. They often come in animal friendly flavors, like chicken or fish, and have enzymes that assist in breaking down the plaque. Your veterinary assistant will recommend introducing this to your pet by letting them lick a bit of paste from your finger. You will want to gradually introduce the brush and increase frequency once accepted. Most dogs will allow this to be done. Cats, however, are individual with their acceptance, but do not let one “not so perfect” incident discourage you. Patience and perseverance will result in a healthy, long lived relationship with your furry family member!