Check yourself, before you wreck yourself: A guide to Canine Dental Health
It was about 3 months ago, that Logan’s mouth started to stink.
Not just ‘dog breath’ smell. This is an OMG STANK-smell.
It was also 3 months ago that I removed all antlers, and other bone bits. I had been red flagged by my vet that his molars were filed down to an abnormal size based on his age (he’ll be 6 in January). Logan is a chewer, which explains his nubby molars! I do know keeping your pet’s teeth and gums in good shape has many health benefits in addition to fresh breath.
My vet clinic is performing free dental consultations, so I took Logan in last week, for a checkup consult. Turns out, he isn’t as bad off as I had originally thought, as his gums look healthy, and only has a bit of tarter build up. It’s highly suggested he gets a scaling, to prevent it from getting worse as he gets older. I received a quote, and will be booking his teeth cleaning within the next couple of weeks.
Dog Dental Q&A – Common Questions
My pet has bad breath. Are bad teeth and gums the cause?
Most likely, YES. However, it is very important to schedule a visit to the veterinarian. In rare cases, some diseases or situations can cause bad breath in the absence of, or in addition to, tooth/gum disease. Conditions such as kidney failure, diabetes, nasal or facial skin infections, cancers, or situations where the animal is ingesting feces or other materials, can cause bad breath with or without periodontal disease.
What actually causes the bad breath when tooth/gum disease is present?
Bad breath, medically known as “halitosis”, results from the bacterial infection of the gums (gingiva) and supporting tissues seen with periodontal disease (periodontal = occurring around a tooth).
How can I tell if my pet is suffering from periodontal disease?
* Bad Breath: this is the leading sign that there is an infection in the mouth
* Tooth loss
* Subdued Behavior
* Abnormal Drooling
* Dropping food from the mouth
* Swallowing food whole
* Bleeding gums
* Going to the food bowl, but not eating
* Any change in chewing or eating habits
If your pet displays any of these signs, serious periodontal disease may be present.
What are the causes of periodontal disease?
Plaque is a colorless film that contains large amounts of bacteria. If left unchecked, plaque builds up, creating infection, destroying gums and resulting in the loss of the tissues and bone that support the teeth. Preventative oral care can reduce the formation of plaque and help maintain proper oral health throughout your pet’s life.
What is the difference between plaque and tartar?
Plaque is a colony of bacteria, mixed with saliva, blood cell, and other bacterial components. Plaque often leads to tooth and gum disease. Dental tartar, or calculus, occurs when plaque becomes mineralized (hard) and firmly adheres to the tooth enamel then erodes the gingival tissue.
What can happen if my pet’s teeth aren’t cleaned?
Both plaque and tartar damage the teeth and gums. Disease starts with the gums (gingiva). They become inflamed – red, swollen, and sore. The gums finally separate from the teeth, creating pockets where more bacteria, plaque, and tartar build up. This in turn causes more damage, and finally tooth and bone loss.
This affects the whole body, too. Bacteria from these inflamed oral areas can enter the bloodstream and affect major body organs. The liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs are most commonly affected. Antibiotics are used prior to and after a dental cleaning to prevent bacterial spread through the blood stream.
But my pet is only 3 years old! Isn’t this an “old dog/cat disease”?
No – dental disease is NOT just for the senior pets.
Without proper dental care, 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age three.
My pet doesn’t seem like s/he is in any pain. Do they experience oral pain?
They may not verbalize or complain like a human would, but animals most likely feel pain with periodontal disease. The pain levels may be low, or very noticeable, and it varies with each animal. Obvious signs of oral pain may include: “chattering” teeth while eating or grooming, drooling, crying out, and refusing to eat. Please see this informative article by a veterinary dental specialist, Ben H. Colmery III, DVM, “Pet Dental Care – Does it Hurt”?
My pet lost a tooth the other day. S/he seems fine. Do I need to do anything?
Yes – please see your veterinarian as soon as possible to check the pocket and other teeth. Exposed tissue can be very painful and are open to infection.
My vet has recommended a dental for my pet. What should l expect?
If your pet has a lot of periodontal disease, your vet will likely prescribe antibiotics for a few days prior to the dental. This will reduce the infection in the mouth and the spread of bacteria via the bloodstream. Pets need to be anesthetized for a full dental cleaning. Scaling tartar can be done while awake, but for a thorough oral exam and cleaning, animals must be anesthetized. Scaling tartar on an awake animal, without polishing the teeth, leaves a rough surface to the tooth, predisposing the tooth for more plaque and tartar accumulation, quicker. Most vets strongly urge pre-anesthetic blood work to ensure that everything else is OK with your pet.
Your pet will be anesthetized, any medications or fluids will be administered, and the vet or veterinary technician will scale the teeth, examine the gums (and any pockets), extract diseased teeth*, and polish the teeth. The equipment used on your pet’s teeth is much like you would find in a human dental office.
*There are other options – such as root canals, crowns, etc. Please speak with your veterinarian about these options, or seek a referral to a veterinary dental specialist.
How can I care for my pet’s teeth at home?
It is important to use products specifically designed for dogs and cats. Do not use human toothpaste on your pet’s teeth. Products are available for cats and for dogs. Your veterinarian or veterinary technician can show you the proper techniques for your pet. Some animals do well with a toothbrush, some do not. Other products include finger swabs, tooth ‘cloths’, and mouth rinses. Talk to your vet about what type of product would work best for your pet. Ideally, the teeth should be brushed daily, as with humans. Even once every few days will be a big help.