It is estimated that 80% of dogs and 50% of cats over the age of three have dental disease that needs professional treatment. Unfortunately the consequences of poor dental health go far beyond the bad breath they share with their humans. Bacteria from the mouth has been isolated in the kidneys, liver and heart valves.
There are several common forms of dental disease. Periodontal disease is common in small dogs and cats. This results when tartar accumulates over time. The bacteria in the tartar creep below the gums and attack the bone and tissue around the teeth. This results in irreversible bone loss displayed as loose or missing teeth.
Large breed dogs and aggressive chewers commonly have broken teeth. There are many common chew items that are simply too hard for dogs to chew safely. Many nylon bones, cow hooves, and natural bones result in chips and breaks in the chewing teeth. When the enamel surface is damaged, bacteria can enter the teeth. These teeth commonly cause significant discomfort and infection. Even with severe damage many dogs will continue to chew and may appear to be fine to their owners until things progress.
The most common dental disease of cats is called a resorption. Small cavity-like defects form near or just under the gums. Over time the resorption in the tooth continues to grow until the tooth breaks off. This process is very painful and many cats will resist chewing their food. I find many cats with resorptions learn to swallow whole pieces of food instead of chewing. No one knows exactly what causes resorptions, but many suspect this disease is caused by a virus.
The first step in providing dental care to our pets is a professional exam. Veterinarians routinely evaluate dental health and can help determine the best treatment options. In many cases it is necessary to place pets under anesthesia to thoroughly evaluate, clean, and treat diseased teeth. The good news is there are ways to improve dental health at home. Brushing your pet’s teeth daily is the most effective way to improve dental health. This can be difficult to do, and it is best to start when pets are young. Special non-fluoride toothpastes can make the process easier. There are also dental diets and dental treats that can help. Dental gels and water additives have become popular in recent years. Talk to your veterinarian to find out which options are best for your pet.
Information provided by Kristin DeVries, DVM, Pet Medical Center, 4450 128th St., Urbandale, 515-331-9035.