Pets have become an integral part of our family, and most pet owners are very concerned about the health of their pets.
We treat them as our children, taking our pets to the vet for regular checkups just as we take our children to the doctor. We get their shots, keep them on heartworm and flea prevention, and take them to the hospital when they are sick or injured. And as a result, our pets are living longer.
Regardless, still one of the most common preventable problems that we see at All Creatures is dental disease. Have you ever looked in your pet’s mouth? Have you ever brushed their teeth? Most people respond to these questions with “say what?” Most owners never consider the health of their pet’s mouth until their pet’s breath gets noticeably stinky. However, periodontal disease is the number one disease affecting pet health.
Periodontal disease is the most common infectious disease in the world. Eighty percent of our pets 2-5 years old suffer some level of periodontal disease. It has been called the “silent killer.” Periodontal disease is a progressive disease that starts out as gingivitis or “red gums.” Pets get a thin film on their teeth just as we do. This thin film is called plaque. Plaque can easily be removed with daily brushing.
If left untreated, the plaque mixes with the saliva and hardens to form a dark brown film. This film is called tarter and can become quite thick. I have seen teeth twice their normal size due to the build-up of tarter. Tarter cannot be removed by brushing. It is like cement and provides the perfect matrix for bacteria to form.
Tarter alone is harmful to the gums as it pushes the gum line away from the teeth. Tarter is referred to as a bio film because it contains millions of bacteria. The bacteria are anaerobic (do not require or like oxygen) for the most part. The byproducts of these bacteria are toxins. As the tarter gets thicker and pushes the gum line further away from the teeth, an even larger area is provided for bacteria to grow.
As the bacteria gets deeper in the gum line, the toxins they release gain entry to blood vessels and bones in the jaw where it can spread to other parts of the body. Bacteria from tarter can affect the heart, liver and kidney function, just to name a few. This entire process can be prevented.
Daily brushing is the gold standard for dental care. As humans, we brush our teeth every day; our pets need their teeth brushed too. The plaque that forms daily is easily removed by this method. Many owners tell me that they simply do not have the time to brush daily. This is especially common in multi-pet households. Owners only brush their pet’s teeth when they get a chance. Unless the plaque is removed before it forms tarter, brushing is a waste of time. Brushing our pet’s teeth once a month or even once a week is not enough. There are other methods to help owners keep their pet’s mouths clean. The most effective is routine dental cleanings performed under general anesthesia. All Creatures has made this even easier with allowing dental cleanings to be put into your pet’s wellness plan, allowing pet owners to pay monthly for their pet’s health needs.
Yearly cleanings provide vets with a chance to examine the mouth close up while the pet is under anesthesia. This is important to allow the detection of any problem areas early on before they get worse. It also allows the plaque and tarter that form under the gum line to be removed, just as they are removed at your twice-annual dentist appointments. With daily brushing and using food and water additives, your pet’s bi-annual/annual cleaning will be much less expensive and traumatic since the chance of extraction is much less.
Some other methods to help prevent tarter build up are using dental treats such as chew-eez and greenies. It is a common misconception that hard food will clean the teeth. The truth is that soft food sticks to teeth, gets under the gum line and provides a much better surface for bacteria to grow than hard food and thus hard food is a much better choice for your dog’s health, but it doesn’t actually “clean the teeth”. There are very few hard foods that have been scientifically proven to actually help clean the teeth.
Dental disease is the most common infectious disease in the world. This is mostly due to owners not being aware of it and not being informed on how to prevent it. Daily brushing, bi-annual or yearly cleanings can help keep your pet healthy for years to come. See your veterinarian if you have any questions on the health of your pet’s mouth.
Dr. Dan Meakin is the owner of All Creatures Animal Hospital, 1894 Ohio Pike in Amelia. Call (513) 797-PETS.