Sunday, February 9, 2014

Do you brush your pet's teeth?

Did you know that dental hygiene is just as important for your pet as it is for you?  It is one of the most overlooked areas in your pet's health care. Studies done by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) show that two out of three pet owners do not follow the dental care recommendations made by their veterinarian.

Why don't pet owners follow our veterinary recommendations?  Think about it and read the information below to learn about periodontal disease in your pet. 

What is periodontal disease?   

Periodontal disease starts with a bacterial film that builds up on the teeth called plaque.  The bacteria die (yuck) and become hardened to the teeth with saliva.  This build up of dead bacteria and saliva becomes tartar, which provides a rough surface for more bacteria to attach to and continue to build up.  Early on when plaque is soft, it can be removed with a toothbrush or by chewing hard foods and toys. (all those dental products out there for pets to chew)  As the tartar builds up it becomes hard and builds up along the gum line causing inflammation and infection of the gums (gingivitis).  The gums will become red swollen or bleed easily.  The plaque then works its way under the gum line along the tooth root. In the final stages of periodontal disease, the tissues surrounding the tooth are destroyed, the bony socket holding the tooth erodes, and the tooth becomes loose and may fall out. This is a very painful process for your four-legged friend, but these problems can be averted before they start with proper dental care.

The smell that comes from that cute little mouth is the smell of bacteria building up on their teeth and causing infection in their gums.  Can you imagine going months or years without taking a toothbrush and paste to your mouth?  That is what happens with our canine and feline friends in most households.

It is advisable to have your pet's mouth evaluated by your veterinarian or veterinary technician at least annually and to have those teeth cleaned professionally at the first sign of tartar buildup or gum redness. 

Pet's teeth are cleaned just like your teeth are cleaned by your dental hygienist.  They are scraped and polished with similar instruments that are used on your teeth.  Animals usually have to be anesthetized in order to clean their teeth properly because most pets will not sit in a chair with their mouths open.  Most veterinarians will handle your pet's dental cleaning just as if they were a person going under anesthesia for a routine outpatient procedure.  Blood tests will be done prior to anesthesia to insure the health of the pet's kidneys, liver and immune system.  An IV catheter will be used to deliver medication and fluid and to insure safety during the procedure.  The teeth will then be cleaned, polished and x-rays will be taken to evaluate the tooth roots.  Therapeutic laser therapy can also be used to decrease gum inflammation and infection.  Once your pet returns home (most procedures take about 1 hour, so most pets return home in the early afternoon) you will be encouraged to follow up with proper brushing to keep up with the now healthy, clean mouth.  

How do you properly brush your pet's teeth?

Use a soft toothbrush or wrap your finger in gauze and hold it at a 45-degree angle to the teeth. Using small, circular motions, work in one area of the dog’s mouth at a time. Be sure to get to all the teeth including the ones in the back of the mouth. You may have to start with one or two teeth at a time until your pet becomes accustomed to your brushing routine.  Since the most tartar builds up on the tooth surfaces that touch the cheek, concentrate on those areas and finish up with a downward stroke on the teeth to remove tartar. 

You play an important role in your animals’ oral health. Regular teeth brushing at home, coupled with regular dental check-ups can help your pet live a longer, healthier life.

So, get to your veterinarian every 6-12 months and have your pet's mouth examined.  If a dental cleaning is in order, be sure to follow up in a timely manner.  Once your pet's mouth has been deemed healthy, be sure to brush your pet's teeth at least once per week.

If you have any questions or would like more information about dental care for your pet, call Warren Woods Veterinary Hospital at 586-751-3350.

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has published the following guidelines for pet's dental health.

Oral Examinations: AAHA recommends that veterinarians evaluate puppies and kittens for problems related to deciduous (baby) teeth, missing teeth, extra teeth, swelling, and oral development. As pets age, your veterinarian will examine your pet for developmental anomalies, accumulation of plaque and tartar, periodontal disease, and oral tumors. The veterinarian can perform a basic oral examination while pets are awake. However, short-lasting anesthetic is required for a more complete examination.
Dental cleanings: Guidelines recommend regular examinations and dental cleanings under general anesthesia for all adult dogs and cats. These cleanings should take place annually starting at one year for cats and small-breed dogs, and at two years of age for larger-breed dogs.
Other guideline recommendations
  • Pre-anesthetic exam–Your veterinarian should examine your pet to ensure it is healthy enough to go under general anesthesia. This examination may include:
    • Blood tests
    • Urine tests
    • Electrocardiography
    • X-rays
  • Anesthesia monitoring–When your pet is under anesthesia, its vital signs (such as body temperature, heart rate, and respiration) should be monitored and recorded. This helps ensure your pet’s safety while under anesthesia. 
  • Dental radiographs–X-rays of your pet’s teeth are needed periodically to evaluate your pet’s oral health. X-rays also help veterinarians detect abnormalities that cannot be seen through physical examination alone. They can also confirm the need for tooth extraction when teeth are loose or badly infected. 
  • Scaling and polishing–Using instruments much like human dentists, veterinarians remove plaque and calculus from your pet’s teeth. Polishing with a special paste smoothes out scratches to the tooth enamel. 
  • Fluoride/sealants–By applying an anti-plaque substance, such as a fluoride treatment and/or a barrier sealant, the veterinarian helps strengthen and desensitize teeth and discourage the development of future plaque.