Pet Dental Health 101

As much as we might like to teach our dogs and cats to brush their own teeth, that is just not possible. However they can chew on raw bones, bullies or dental chews to help keep the plaque build up at bay and to support their oral health. Gingivitis in our pets can be very harmful and can lead to periodontal disease. We should do our very best to keep this disease from occurring. Let’s dig into how it all happens and what you can do to help you keep dental disease away and maintain good dental health for your pet.

Gingivitis is a result of tartar build up along the gum lines that irritate and then inflames the gums. The hardened bacteria (calculus) called tartar, once formed on their teeth, is like cement and very difficult to remove. It usually needs a professional to remove it i.e. your veterinarian. This is the stage we don’t want to ever let our pet’s teeth get to. Tartar can actually build up in a short period of time if not looked after. Signs your dog or cat may have gingivitis are red gums and bad breath or they might stop eating due to the pain that this dental disease may create.

Gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease. Untreated, this stage of disease can create pockets of bacteria that will collect and breed more bacteria which can eventually make its way into the body via the bloodstream causing internal inflammation as well as continued inflammation of the gums. This stage of gum disease does not only affect the mouth it can cause complications elsewhere in your pet’s body, one being the heart.

A study, conducted by Dr. Larry Glickman at Purdue, examined the records of nearly 60,000 dogs with some stage of periodontal disease and about 60,000 without, and revealed a correlation between gum and heart maladies.

"Our data show a clear statistical link between gum disease and heart disease in dogs," says Glickman.

The correlation was even stronger when it came to endocarditis, or inflammation of the heart valves, Glickman says. In the dogs with no periodontal disease, about 0.01 percent were diagnosed with endocarditis, compared to 0.15 percent of the Stage 3 periodontal disease dogs.

"For many candidates with heart disease, you're not talking about a single cause," says Glickman. "But it clearly speaks to more emphasis on dental care."(resource Dr Beckman)

Let’s talk about the stage that can be controlled before the tartar forms.

The stage before the hardening of the bacteria is called plaque. This is the soft, sticky, slimy film, made up of bacteria, that coats the teeth but can be removed . We remove plaque from our teeth by flossing and brushing. You can remove plaque from your pet’s teeth by doing the same. You can brush your pet’s teeth with a toothbrush designed for a dog or cat and or wrap gauze around your finger and rub against their teeth if they will let you : ). A way of flossing would be to give them a chew to help keep the plaque from sticking to their teeth and becoming the tartar build up we are trying to avoid.

You can use herbal formulas to keep the gums healthy and pet friendly toothpaste or gels, avoid human toothpaste they can have Xylitol and or fluoride in them. The key here is to disrupt the plaque from staying too long on the teeth. I am not a fan of anesthesia to have my animals teeth cleaned. Sometimes there is no other way. There are times the disease is too far along to manage it yourself. After a professional cleaning, you can stay on top of their mouth with a fresh start.