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Healthy Teeth Make a Healthy Pet

By: Angell Memorial Animal Hospital

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Periodontal disease is the most common disease of small animals. Signs of periodontal disease are often not recognized, however, and some pets suffer until all of their teeth have become infected.

Preventive dental care is one of the most neglected pet health needs. Yet it's just as important for pets as it is for people. Below are some answers to commonly asked questions about dental care for pets.

What is Periodontal Disease?

When food remains on the teeth it forms plaque, which continuously builds on the tooth and, if not removed, hardens and becomes what we call calculus. Periodontal disease, called gingivitis in its early stages, is caused by a buildup of plaque and calculus below the gum line. According to Angell Memorial Dental Technician Jennifer Robinson, some 85 percent of dogs and cats over the age of two have some form of periodontal disease. This painful and progressive gum disease causes inflammation and, finally, tooth loss.

Warning signs include

  • Bad breath
  • Loose teeth
  • Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums)
  • Chattering
  • Drooling
  • Lack of appetite
  • Bleeding gums

    Periodontal disease is painful. Animals cannot speak, so it is up to us to take responsibility for their care. If you think your pet may have periodontal disease, schedule an appointment to have your veterinarian perform an oral exam. He or she may inform you that you need to schedule a dental exam and cleaning.

    What happens in the dental exam?

    A dental exam and cleaning, called dental prophylaxis, is the standard treatment for periodontal disease. This includes manual and ultrasonic removal of plaque above and below the gum line. Polishing and fluoride treatment usually follow.

    A dental prophylaxis can alleviate your pet's discomfort and yearly oral exams should be performed to diagnose and treat dental problems in their early stages. However, veterinary care alone will not prevent periodontal disease. Good home care is essential for maintaining healthy teeth and gums. Most important, you should brush your dog's teeth daily.

    When should I start brushing my pet's teeth?

    The younger your pet is when he's introduced to tooth brushing, the more easily he will accept the procedure. Ideally, you should begin brushing when your puppy is 8 to 12 weeks old. But, like any good habit, it's never too late to start.

    Immediately following your pet's dental prophylaxis, you should begin brushing his teeth every day. This is important not only because tartar begins to build six to eight hours after a meal, but because it gets your pet into a daily routine.

    It should not take longer than 30 seconds each day. A reward such as a dog cookie, is a great idea. Your pet will remember this treat more than the actual brushing. Remember, never use human toothpaste or baking soda on your pet's teeth.

    Why do my dog's gums look red?

    Some dogs develop red tissue around their gums that seems to grow over the tooth. Usually the tooth enamel under this red tissue is eroded and can be filled once the tissue is removed. If, however, the enamel has eroded to expose the tooth's pulp (nerve and blood supply), the tooth cannot be filled and must be extracted, since it causes pain for the animal. We do not yet know why this enamel erosion occurs, but weekly use of fluoride on the teeth may help prevent the lesions.

    My pet eats only dry food and plenty of dog biscuits. Do I still need to brush his teeth?

    A hard, dry diet will help keep the crowns or the teeth clean, but not below the gumline. Dog biscuits will remove some plaque, but again, they cannot clean below the gum-line and will not prevent periodontal disease. While feeding these foods is good for your pet's teeth, it is no substitute for daily brushing.


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