Cats and dogs, like people, have one set of baby teeth which are replaced by a set of permanent teeth at around 6 months of age. These teeth have to last a lifetime, which is why it's so important for your pet to have a regular dental check-up every 6 months to one year.
During a dental check-up, your pet's teeth will be examined for cavities, faulty enamel, root exposure, tartar, and any sign of loose or cracked teeth. In addition, the gums will be examined for any sign of disease or inflammation.
By far, the most common form of dental disease in animals is dental calculus - plaque buildup. Symptoms include halitosis, loose teeth, mouth pain, and an inability to chew properly. Plaque is an accumulation of soft tissue and bacterial debris mixed with salivary secretions, and it can cause serious problems including gum recession, loosening of the periodontal ligament and teeth, loss of bone surrounding the teeth, and tooth abscesses.
Some of the more serious problems associated with periodontal disease occur when bacteria from the plaque gets in to the sinuses, and from there into the bloodstream. The bacteria then finds its way to the areas of high blood flow, potentially causing disease in heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver.
The good news is prevention is easy! It begins with periodic examinations for evidence of dental problems once or twice a year, and cleaning of your pet's teeth as needed. A diet of dry food, as well as hard treats, and even regular tooth brushing can help to maintain your pet's dental health between tooth cleanings.
Why Professional Dental Care is Important
No matter how diligent you are about dental care for your pet, proper home care is just not enough. Regular checkups at your veterinarian’s office are also a necessity. Just like people, pets need professional dental care too! Starting your pet on a dental care regimen can help detect existing problems early before they become more serious and also prevent new ones from starting. Working together, you and your veterinarian can help keep your pet’s teeth and his/her overall health in check.
According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show signs of oral disease by the age of 3. The most common of these disorders in pets is periodontal disease.
Your veterinary team is the only one that can effectively remove all of the plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth that has been known to lead to gingivitis and periodontal disease. They use specially designed dental instruments to clear away the tartar and rid any bacteria that has reached underneath the gum-line. Just as people should visit their dentist regularly for a checkup, so should your dog or cat go to the dentist for prophylaxis (dental cleaning) and to treat gingivitis and deter any further complications.
4 Obvious Signs of Dental Trouble
#1 BAD BREATH
How often have you gotten eye level with your furry companion only to be repulsed by his/her breath? We usually excuse a pet’s bad breath as simply being “doggy breath” or “cat breath,” as if it is a customary part of his/her being. However, unless your pet has just eaten something odorous such as tuna, it is important to recognize that bad breath is not normal and is usually a sign that there is an underlying problem with his/her dental health.
#2 DISCOLORED TEETH
Healthy canine and feline teeth are white. Any discolorations or stains should be examined by your veterinary team. In addition, buildup or darker areas on your pet’s teeth, particularly around the gum-line, is another indicator that you should have your pet’s dental health evaluated.
#3 RED, SWOLLEN, OR BLEEDING GUMS
Healthy gums are pink. Gums that are red, swollen, or bleeding need veterinary attention.
#4 LOOSE TEETH
Unless your pet’s jaw has been injured, loose teeth or recessing gum-lines can be an indication of bone loss. You can determine if teeth are loose by gently pressing on them.
A quick inspection of your pet’s mouth can give some good clues as to what might be going on. Gently lift the lips and check for any of the above signs (tartar, inflamed gums, missing, broken, or discolored teeth). Other indicators are whether you have noticed your cat or dog drooling lately? Sometimes your pet may be reluctant to eat, play with toys, or pawing at his/her face due to dental health issues. These are all potential signs of dental disease.
Prevention is the Key!
The good news is that you can prevent periodontal disease in your pet. Caring for his/her dental health really comes down to three simple steps:
- Have your pet’s teeth cleaned professionally by your veterinarian on a regular basis (usually once or twice a year).
- Brush your pet’s teeth daily to help remove the buildup of plaque.
- Pay attention to your pet’s dental health. Examine his/her teeth and gums regularly.
What’s in a Dental Visit?
Before your pet’s dental visit can be scheduled, your veterinarian will perform a thorough examination that includes checking the heart for an arrhythmia and performing diagnostic blood tests. Because many animals have a hard time sitting still and saying “Ah” for a dental exam, your veterinarian may need to place your pet under anesthesia. In order to reduce possible risks associated with anesthesia, your veterinarian will recommend checking the heart for arrhythmia and reviewing blood results to confirm that the liver, kidneys, and blood counts are normal in order to proceed with the dental procedure.
In some cases, pets that show signs of significant periodontal disease will be prescribed antibiotics a few days prior to the dental cleaning to reduce the infection and possibility of complications. Also, pet owners need to withhold food and water from the pet after a certain hour on the evening before the procedure, as is common in any medical procedure that involves anesthesia. Check with your veterinarian for the exact timing.
Home care is an essential part of keeping your pet’s teeth healthy. Although the best time to start a dental routine is when you first bring home a puppy or kitten, there is never a bad time to start. The first step is to get him/her used to having the teeth and gums touched.”
Starting by simply wiping your pet’s teeth with a damp washcloth wrapped around your finger. Offer your pet lots of praise for being a good sport. After he/she has gotten used to the washcloth, he/she can graduate to a pet toothbrush.
Once you are ready to start brushing your pet’s teeth, you will need two essentials:
- Toothpaste specially formulated for pets. Pet toothpaste comes in an assortment of flavors, including mint, beef, chicken, and seafood. It is best to stay away from human toothpaste, which can irritate your pet’s stomach if swallowed.
- A toothbrush. A soft toothbrush or one that has been specially developed for pets (e.g., a little rubber finger brush for cats, a smaller brush for small dogs) is your best bet. Be sure to ask your veterinarian for advice on making the brushing experience a positive one for you and your four-legged friend.
You will find that regular professional cleanings as well as the simple act of daily brushing will help keep your pet healthier throughout his/her life. A little extra care in the short run will lead to important health benefits for years down the road.
We encourage you to schedule a dental examination for your pet today! Call Morena Pet Hospital at (619) 275-0888 to have your pet's dental health evaluated.