It may be surprising to some that dental concerns rank among the most common health reasons people bring their dogs and cats to the vet for care. At the very least dental concerns are commonly discovered during routine checkups. Given how common dental conditions can be among dogs and cats, questions about this should be top on your list when considering insurance.
Dental problems in dogs and cat are the same as in humans. However, owing to the fact that out pets are terrible about brushing their teeth (and we aren’t much better in doing it for them), the results are often more pronounced. As with humans, the first step is the formation of plaque. Food particles, bacteria and saliva combine to form soft plaque. Twice weekly brushing can go a long way to preventing plague from building up and hardening into brown tarter (a hard coating formed from plaque and minerals in saliva).
Tartar (also known as calculus) is a tough, difficult-to-remove substance which irritates an animal’s gums and causes bad breath. The irritation of the pet’s gums causes inflammation and reddening of the gums known as gingivitis. Left untreated, gingivitis will lead to periodontal diseases, which is irreversible and presents many risks to your pet including extreme pain and even blood and heart conditions as bacteria enter the bloodstream.
Not associated with maintenance issues are birth defects or deformations associated with breeds. Animals may also suffer from misshaped jaws or teeth which can jut out or protrude from the mouth in unusual directions. As these are genetic conditions, they are often left untreated. Otherwise treatment involves surgical procedures which may include the removal of teeth or reshaping of the jaw.
Signs and Symptoms: The most commonly recognized symptom of dental concerns by owners in pets is bad breath. It’s important to note that bad breath on a pet does not necessarily imply dental issues. In some cases, sinus issues and infections or diet may be the culprit. However, if you notice bad breath on your dog or cat, you should perform a closer inspection of its mouth by using your finger to lift its lip so that you may inspect its teeth and gums. If you note a brown coating on your pet’s teeth (particularly near the gum line) you should schedule an appointment with your vet to have your pet’s teeth cleaned.
In addition to visible tartar, you should also inspect your pet’s gums for swelling, visible reddening or bleeding where the gums meet the teeth. If you are at all uncertain, schedule an appointment with your vet to have your pet’s teeth inspected.
Additionally, a pet suffering from dental issues may stop eating or may suddenly refuse hard foods in favor of soft foods.
Important Action: As noted above, the presence of tartar or visible gum irritation should prompt a visit to your vet. Tartar is hard stuff and strongly adheres to the gums meaning that brushing alone will not remove the stuff. However, preventative action can keep tartar from forming in the first place.
If possible, brush your pet’s teeth twice weekly. There are many products available to help with this sometimes challenging procedure. Of greatest importance is knowing that you should NOT use toothpaste made for humans. Pet stores sell pet-friendly pastes that can aid in the removal of plaque but you can do a great deal of good without any paste at all.
Switching your pet to hard foods and dental-friendly treats can also help prevent the formation of tartar. Dental concerns are often more common in small or toy dogs such as Yorkshire terriers as most hard foods are too much for their tiny mouths. If you can find hard kibble that comes in small enough pieces or, at the very least, hard dog cookies your small pet will eat, they can go a long way to keeping your pet’s teeth healthy.
Treatment: As already noted, the best treatment is prevention in the form of hard foods that scrape the teeth as a dog eats and regular brushing. Once the formation of tartar begins, however, a visit to your vet for teeth cleaning is the recommended action.
Tartar is extremely tough stuff, like a thin, brown coating of cement on the surface of your pet’s teeth. If the layer is thin enough and your pet calm enough, your vet may be able to scrape it away with dental tools without putting your pet under general anesthesia. In most cases, however, the condition will be severe enough to warrant a full cleaning. This will involve putting your pet under general anesthetic and “scraping” the teeth to break away tartar. I have performed this procedure as a veterinary technician and assure you, if done by an experienced tech, the result is painless and completely affective at removing tartar.
The tool uses water and sonic vibration to break up tartar on the teeth. Afterwards, teeth are polished and the pet is cleaned up and set in an observation area as it comes out of anesthesia before going home with you, happy and healthy. In some severe cases it may be necessary to remove teeth. This is most common in older pets or in conditions where periodontal disease has set in.
As cleaning teeth most often requires general anesthesia, it can be a risky process to perform with older animals. Risks associated with general anesthesia increase as pets age. It is, therefore, critical that you do everything you can to prevent the need. Feed your pet hard foods. If it cannot or will not eat hard foods, you should be particularly diligent in brushing its teeth.