February is Dental Health month!
Dental disease is very prevalent among our pets and, just like with us, is very important to their overall health.
Why do so many of our pets have dental disease? The reasoning is very simple and often overlooked. Our pets don't brush!
Do they need to? Yes!
In order to reduce the sticky plaque and bacteria that are accumulating in their mouths every time they eat it is as important for pets as it it for us to brush our teeth. Plaque is the sticky substance that is excreted from bacteria that sit along the gum line. This plaque sticks to the surface of the teeth, where it combines with your pets saliva to harden and form tartar. This plaque is the hard brown crusts that can be seen on animals teeth near the gum line. This tartar is porous and itself harbors bacteria (you see the problem?). So....as the tartar sits against the tooth and gum line this bacteria causes inflammation (seen initially as gingivitis - that red line above the gum). Following this the bacteria and tartar to invade under the gingiva to damage the periodontal ligament - the ligament that helps to hold the tooth in place, and from there we start to get significant damage to the root of the tooth and can get mobile (wiggly) painful teeth.
But my pet has brown teeth and bad breath but seems fine?
This is likely true. Dogs and cats are very resilient and often hide pain a lot better than us humans do. However, it doesn't mean that it's not there. The other factor is that this discomfort is not acute - like a fractured tooth or leg injury would be. So over time our pets have adapted to their discomfort and learned to avoid using the more painful or loose teeth. Many will actually just swallow their kibbles whole. It always amazes pet parents when their pet comes home after having a dental with multiple extractions and wants to eat that night - why? because their mouths actually feel LESS painful after the surgery than it did before. Similarly their pets are often brighter, less grumpy or more energetic after significant dental disease has been corrected.
So how does dental disease impact their overall health?
Outside of the discomfort associated with the chronic inflammation and potentially loose teeth there are other health impacts. Additionally the infected roots can cause painful root abscesses, as well as sinus infections (chronic sinusitis) and nasal infections (rhinitis). Outside of this, the biggest concern is that the excess bacteria that are in the mouth can spread through the body and infect other organs - with the heart and kidneys being the most susceptible.
So how can I help my pets teeth?
It really depends on the age and stage of your pets dental disease. Once tartar and gingivitis have started truly only a professional dental cleaning can resolve that issue (more to come on this in next week's blog). But if you have a young pet with good teeth, or a pet that has recently had their teeth cleaned then you can look to at home options for helping prevent dental disease build up. The level of care needed will vary between individuals and breeds. Some breeds (namely poodles) are very predisposed to dental disease, while others (think Labs and Golden retrievers) usually have less of a concern with dental disease.
The best thing you can do for your pets teeth is to brush them daily with an enzymatic cleaner. Outside of that, or if your pet is not amenable to such handling, you could consider a food that is formulated for dental health - these foods will have the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Approval visible on the packaging. Chew toys can also be helpful but be mindful of the ones you choose. This industry is largely unregulated and many things labelled for chewing can be too hard and cause fractures. A dentist once told me - if you wouldn't hit yourself in the knee with it...don't let your pet chew it! further to that for the strong chewers watch to make sure that the toys don't break down too much or become small enough to ingest.
As always, if you have any questions then the vets at Healthy Pets are always just a phone call away!