Editor’s Note: Healthy Paws is a column sponsored and written by the owners of Clarendon Animal Care, a full-service, general practice veterinary clinic. The clinic is located 3000 10th Street N., Suite B. and can be reached at 703-997-9776.
February is “National Pet Dental Health Month,” so we’re going to dedicate our post this week and the end of the month to pet dental health. Now, this doesn’t mean your pet’s dental health should be neglected for the rest of the year.
In the majority of cases, dental disease is a condition where “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” — small preventative measures such as regular brushing, appropriate chews, treats and water additives can significantly slow the progression of gingivitis, plaque and tartar accumulation. So regular dental upkeep and monitoring (yes, that means year-round, and that means actually looking in your pet’s mouth) are such an important aspect of whole-pet wellness and care.
What is periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease is the inflammation and infection of the structures around the teeth, which include the gums, the ligament that attaches the tooth to the bone, and alveolar bone itself. In the earliest stage of periodontal disease — gingivitis — the inflammation and infection of the gums. In more severe forms of the disease, all of the tissues are involved.
What is the best way to prevent periodontal disease?
Well, it’s brushing! Unfortunately, though, in order for brushing to be most effective you need to brush your pet’s teeth at least 3 times a week, and like with us, daily is best. Obviously, your safety is first and foremost in all circumstances, but for most dogs, and even cats, teeth brushing can be a pleasant, non-stressful experience.
Check out our video for instructions on how to brush your pet’s teeth. There are fancy pet toothbrushes and enzymatic toothpastes out there — which are all great — but sometimes they create barriers or excuses that keep the brushing from actually happening. One way we recommend to brush teeth is to take a gauze square on your finger — no toothpaste or anything else on it — and wrapping your finger in it; then using that to brush/massage the gum line. You’d be amazed the amount of plaque you can get off (and you can actually SEE it on the gauze) with that technique.
The take-away: The best brushing is the one that actually happens, and we tend to find that the fewer gimmicks involved set us up better for success. That may be with a classic toothbrush, with a fingertip toothbrush or with a gauze square.
Is my pet’s dental health really that important?
Well, like people, every pet’s mouth is different. Some animals and breeds are more susceptible for dental disease than others. In some animals a neglected mouth will result with some degree of plaque build up over time, and gingivitis (or inflammation and infection of the gums). But in some animals that neglected mouth will lead to severe infectious of the mouth, abscesses, pain, bad breath, and can make it more difficult to regulate other disease processes (such as diabetes). In the more severe cases, treatment may involve tooth extractions or complicated dental procedures. Additionally, periodontal disease in general can lead to infections of the liver, heart and other internal organs, so should never be considered “just a dental” problem.
What happens when we have disease that can’t be managed with at-home care? Well, then we would discuss an anesthetized dental procedure for your pet. This allows us to fully assess the tooth and gingival health, take dental x-rays to assess tooth root and bone health and fully clean (including beneath the gum line) the teeth. Sometimes we find that teeth are far more diseased that what initially meets the eye and extractions or referral to a veterinary dentist may be indicated to bring the mouth back to health.
In our next post we’ll discuss treats and chews for our pets and give some guidance on how to pick the right one for your pet to maximize on their dental health.