January was long and cold and as we enter February, we can at least be happy that it is three days shorter. You may have spent a lot of time by the warmth of a fireplace or wood-burning stove cuddling with your pets. In those close quarters, did you notice any odors other than that of wood or coal? Maybe your pet’s breath was a little less than desirable?
That wouldn’t be unusual — 85% of pets over the age of three have some degree of dental disease. In fact, dental disease ranks number two, just behind obesity, on the list of the most important pet health issues. Dental health is also directly related to longevity and is one of the most controllable factors of your pet’s quantity and quality of life.
There are a number of things that you as a pet owner and we as veterinarians can do to keep your pet’s mouth clean and healthy. First, during your pet’s annual physical exam, we take a good look at his teeth and gums to assess the level of dental disease. In the early stages, mild reddening of the gums (gingivitis) is present with small amounts of tartar. As the disease worsens, the tartar becomes hard and thick (calculus) and the gingivitis spreads. The gums will start to recede, exposing the roots of the teeth, and bacteria can get to the roots, causing painful abscesses. Second, a dental cleaning may be in order. Proper cleanings are done under general anesthesia in order to get under the gum line. We take many precautions, including pre-operative bloodwork, placement of an IV catheter, pre-anesthetic sedatives, and close monitoring while under anesthesia. Dental radiographs are often necessary to assess the roots of the teeth. Many times, an abscess is forming at the base of the tooth but the tooth may look fine above the gum line. Each tooth is explored with a small probe to see if there is damage between the tooth and the gum. Then the teeth are each scaled with an ultrasonic scaler and polished. If extractions are needed, we also send the pet home on antibiotics and pain medication.
Once your pet is home, you can do much to prevent tartar from reforming. We carry several different products to help you. A toothbrush and toothpaste (beef or chicken flavored) to clean your pet’s teeth a couple times a week is very effective in preventing tartar. Aquadent is a water additive — it is added to the water in the water bowl and acts as a mouth rinse. Oradent can be squirted directly onto the teeth two to three times weekly. Dental chews and treats also help some, but watch out for the extra calories — remember the number one pet health problem is obesity!
So if you’ve been noticing Fido or Fluffy’s breath has been less than pleasant recently, do both you and your pet a favor and make an appointment to have him checked.