February is designated by the
“Doggie breath” is the first stage dental disease in pets. This results from an accumulation of tartar and plaque near the gums, a condition called gingivitis. Red lines along the edges of the teeth instead of the normal, healthy bright pink color, signifies the beginning of gingivitis.
When diagnosed early, gingivitis can be treated. Gingivitis is actually a bacterial infection. If left untreated, the bacteria begin to move under the gum line, where they infect the teeth at their roots. This can lead to pyorrhea, or periodontitis. At this advanced stage there is gum recession and loosening of the teeth. A
thorough dental exam and cleaning is the cornerstone of properly treating gingivitis
in the early stages. Treatment of advanced or severe
periodontal disease may involve extractions of teeth that have become infected, antibiotics as needed to help control the infection and pain medication (dental disease can be extremely
painful). If left untreated, the bacterial infection can spread to the bone where it causes osteomyelitis of the jaw bones. Ultimately, the infection can enter the blood stream where the bacteria may cause damage to the liver, heart and kidneys.
Veterinarians use an ultrasonic scaler to clean your pet’s teeth, a process very similar to that done in humans. As in people, dental X-rays are the gold standard and should be taken whenever a pet dental cleaning is performed. X-rays are needed to evaluate the crowns and the tooth roots. It is necessary to put the patient under a general anesthetic for a proper dental procedure to allow cleaning and X-rays. With proper health screening, anesthesia is safe, and any potential risks far outweigh the danger of leaving a diseased mouth untreated.
As important as the cleaning, the teeth need to be polished after the cleaning process. Polishing removes micro scratches in the enamel that predisposes the teeth to future dental tartar and plaque build up. Make sure to ask your veterinarian if he or she polishes the teeth with every dental cleaning. If not, find a veterinarian that does.
Of course, prevention is always better than treatment. You can avoid dental procedures if you make a regular practice of brushing your pet’s teeth at home. Though not as effective as a periodic professional cleaning, but keeping your pet’s teeth cleaned by brushing will greatly improve the health of their teeth and gums. Brushing the teeth is simple and takes only a few minutes. Your veterinarian can teach you how to train your pet to allow brushing — including cats! There are also several great videos on YouTube that demonstrate how to brush your pet’s teeth.