February is "National Pet Dental Health Month," and I would like to make you aware of some of the problems associated with poor oral health, and let you know some of the things that can be done to improve, and prevent, poor animal oral health.
Dental disease is the most common disease found in dogs and cats. The American Veterinary Dental Society estimates that 85% of cats and dogs will develop clinical dental disease by 4 years of age. The disease process develops when bacterial plaque and tartar compromise the oral tissues leading to gingivitis, periodontal disease, and ultimately tooth loss. If these bacteria gain access to bloodstream they may have more far reaching effects on organ systems including the lungs, liver, kidneys, and heart.
All pets are susceptible to dental disease. Some simple signs to determine if your pet is developing dental disease include:
- visible tartar
- swollen, receding, or bleeding gums
- changing eating habits
- visibly loose or fractured teeth
If any of these signs are observed, your pet may have dental disease that requires medical attention.
An evaluation of your pets’ oral health should begin at the annual examination. During this examination your veterinarian will collect a recent medical history and perform a complete physical exam, including an evaluation of the oral cavity. If your pet is displaying signs of dental disease, a sedated oral exam and dental cleaning will be recommended. As this procedure requires general anesthesia, appropriate pre-surgical testing may be recommended.
The dental procedure will include a hand scaling, removing the large pieces of tartar, an ultrasonic and subgingival scaling, to remove the smaller tartar buildup, and dental radiographs. If disease is documented, various types of intervention or tooth extraction will be recommended. Finally, the teeth will be polished, and have fluoride applied to the teeth surface.
Home pet dental care is equally important as the in-office procedures. Regular daily brushing, topical applications, and approved dental chew products are all appropriate to maintain good oral health. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (vohc.org) has a list of approved veterinary diets, supplements, and chews that provide additional protection for your pets’ oral health. I recommend speaking with your veterinarian regarding any of these products to ensure safety and efficacy for your pets’ specific needs.
While February is Pet Dental Health Month, year round awareness is truly required to keep your pets healthy and happy. Daily home care, annual examinations, and appropriate professional cleanings are equal components to a complete dental health regimen.
Blake Liebert, DVM, is Chief of Staff at Muddy Creek Animal Care Center. He is a graduate of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.