Preserving those pearly whites
By Judie Amyot, The Suburban
We all love our pets and do everything we can to ensure they remain healthy and well cared for. Annual vet exams, keeping vaccinations up to date, quality nutrition and plenty of exercise are key to maintaining good health. But there is one component to a pet’s overall health checklist that often falls by the wayside and that is dental/oral health. It’s not that we don’t care or feel it’s unimportant. Most pet owners simply don’t make a habit out of examining their pet’s teeth and gums nor do they brush them on a daily basis.
Give the dog a bone and that will be sufficient in scraping off any plaque or tartar build up. This may work for some but not for all. My family has just learned the hard and very expensive way that neglecting to keep a pet’s teeth clean can lead to all sorts of dental issues. Our little poodle just had five teeth extracted and a complete dental scaling, the result of not consistently brushing its teeth over the years. Lesson learned.
Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition in dogs and cats and often by the time your pet is three years old, he or she may have some early evidence of it. This will worsen as your pet grows older if effective preventive measures aren’t taken. Advanced periodontal disease can cause severe problems and pain for your pet and doesn’t just affect the mouth. Other health problems found in association with periodontal disease include kidney, liver and heart muscle issues.
It starts with plaque that hardens into tartar. Tartar above the gum line can be often be easily seen and removed but plaque and tartar below the gum line and therefore not immediately visible, can be damaging and sets the stage for infection and damage to the jawbone and the tissues that connect the tooth to the jawbone. Periodontal disease is graded on a scale of 0 (normal) to 4 (severe). Oral health issues to look for are: Bad breath; Broken or loose teeth; Teeth that are discoloured or covered in tartar; Abnormal chewing, drooling or dropping food from the mouth; Reduced appetite or refusal to eat; Bleeding from the mouth; Swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth, Irritability and changes in behaviour.
Treatment involves a thorough dental cleaning and X-rays are taken to determine the severity of the disease. Your vet will make recommendations based on your pet’s overall health and provide you with options to consider. Anesthesia will be used to perform dental procedures to prevent your pet from moving, trying to escape and even biting. Most pets can go home the same day of the procedure although they will be a bit groggy for the rest of the day.
Obviously, prevention is the key to avoiding potentially serious oral health issues. Regularly brushing the teeth with pet toothpaste is the single most effective thing you can do. This can reduce the frequency of professional dental cleanings and may eliminate them entirely. Feeding your pet quality dry kibble may make nutritional sense but dry food is known to coat the teeth and contribute to tartar and plaque buildup rather than scrape it off. Soft, wet food is less likely to adhere to the surface of the teeth.
There are many natural supplements available at pet supply stores that when mixed into your pet’s food or water, help prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar and also aid in removing what is already there. Not all dogs are bone chewers and some may need a different approach to keeping their teeth clean. So do whatever works best for you and your pet to keep those chompers sparkling clean and avoid the bank-breaking expense of a dental scaling or surgery.