Did you know annual dental cleaning may help prolong the lifespan of your dog or cat?
Prevention is key.
One of the most important causes of heart and kidney disease of dogs and cats is dental tartar and periodontal disease. By the age of three years old, 75% of dogs and cats have some periodontal disease. Millions of bacteria live in the dental calculi (tartar) and enter the bloodstream from the unhealthy gums, and spread to the body’s major organs. An annual dental cleaning cannot be emphasized enough when it comes to its role in minimizing these potential diseases. It can even help prolong the lifespan of your dogs or cat.
After annual cleaning, regular brushing with a dog or cat toothpaste is essential to prevent periodontal disease and improve your pet’s life quality. Prescription and over-the-counter products we recommend to be used at home are listed on www.vohc.org. We recommend that owners use at least one (or multiple) dental care products on a continued basis to help decrease the build-up of tartar.
I was unaware that my pet has dental problems. Is it common?
Dental disease is one of the most common medical conditions seen by veterinarians. Over 68% of all dogs and two-thirds of cats over the age of three are estimated to have some form of periodontal or dental disease.
“Few pets show obvious signs of dental disease.”
Few pets show obvious signs of dental disease. It is up to the pet’s family and veterinarian to uncover this hidden and often painful condition.
Are dental problems the same in pets and people?
No. In fact, the most common problem is tooth decay, which, due to the loss of calcium from the enamel, results in painful, infected caries (also called cavities). In dogs, tooth decay represents less than 10% of all dental problems; the most common dental problems seen in dogs are caused by periodontal disease.
What is periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease is a term used to describe inflammation or infection of the tissues surrounding the tooth. Accumulation of tartar and calculus on the teeth causes gum recession around the base of the tooth. Infection soon follows, and the gums recede further, exposing sensitive unprotected tooth root surfaces and the bony tooth sockets. Left untreated, the infection spreads deep into the tooth socket, destroying the bone. Ultimately, the tooth loosens and falls out.
Is periodontal disease very common?
It is estimated that more than two-thirds of dogs over three years of age suffer from some degree of periodontitis, making it by far the most common disease affecting our beloved canine companions.
How does tartar form, and why is it a problem?
The mouth is home to thousands of bacteria. As these bacteria multiply on the surfaces of the tooth, they form an invisible layer called plaque or biofilm. Some of this plaque is removed naturally by the dog’s tongue and chewing habits. If allowed to remain on the tooth surface, the plaque thickens and becomes mineralized. Mineralized plaque forms tartar, and as the tartar thickens further, it becomes calculus. The tartar accumulates above and below the gumline and presses on the gums, causing inflammation called gingivitis.
As the oral infection progresses, tonsillitis and pharyngitis can also occur. The bacteria can also be absorbed into the bloodstream and spread to other organs. “Bad teeth” can cause infections in the heart valves (endocarditis), kidneys, and/or liver.
Can tartar be prevented?
Plaque becomes mineralized in some dogs much quicker than in others.
The best way to prevent tartar build-up is regular home care, particularly tooth brushing using toothpaste that is specifically designed to be swallowed. Special dog chew toys and treats may help reduce or delay tartar build-up. Some pet foods have been specifically formulated as dental diets that mechanically assist in plaque removal.
Will feeding my pet dry food remove tartar?
Pet food manufacturers have recently developed new dental diets that can help reduce the formation of plaque and tartar in your pet. Keep in mind that once tartar has formed, it will be necessary to remove it through professional scaling and polishing under general anesthesia.
What is involved with a routine dental cleaning?
A routine dental cleaning involves a thorough dental examination, followed by dental scaling and polishing to remove the tartar and invisible plaque from all of the tooth surfaces. Your veterinarian will perform pre-anesthetic blood tests to ensure that kidney and liver function are satisfactory for anesthesia. Sometimes antibiotic treatment is started before the periodontal therapy is performed. Your veterinarian will discuss the specific pre-dental recommendations for your pet.
Once your dog or cat is anesthetized, your veterinarian will thoroughly examine the mouth, noting the alignment of the teeth and the extent of tartar accumulation both above and below the gum line. If periodontal disease is severe, it may not be possible to save badly affected teeth, which may need to be extracted. Next, tooth scaling will be performed using both traditional hand scalers and ultrasonic cleaning equipment to remove all traces of tartar, both above and below the gum line. The tartar below the gum line causes the most significant gum recession, and it must be removed thoroughly. After scaling, the teeth are polished to remove microscopic scratches in order to help prevent subsequent plaque build-up. Special applications such as fluoride, antibiotic preparations, and cleaning compounds may be indicated to decrease tooth sensitivity, strengthen enamel, treat bacterial infection, and reduce future plaque accumulation.
The procedures that your pet may require will be discussed with you before your pet’s dental cleaning. Since it can be difficult to predict the extent of dental disease in advance of the procedure, your veterinarian must be able to reach you during the procedure to discuss any additional treatment that may be necessary.
Why can’t I just remove the tartar and plaque with a dental scaler?
Although you can remove the tartar accumulated above the gum line in some extremely cooperative dogs, there are three problems with doing this:
- Only the tartar above the gum line is removed, leaving behind the material below the gum line, which will continue to cause periodontal problems.
- It is not possible or safe to clean the inner surfaces of the teeth properly in a conscious dog.
- The use of any instrument on the tooth enamel will cause microscopic scratches on the surface, ultimately damaging the tooth surface and leading to further disease. (This is the reason why your dental hygienist always polishes your teeth after removing the tartar with dental instruments).
Do I have to make an appointment for my dog to have a dental scaling and polishing?
Yes. Your veterinarian will perform pre-anesthetic blood tests, examine your pet for any other underlying disorders prior to the procedure, and determine if antibiotic treatment should be started beforehand.