Dental Care In Our Pets

by Dr. Doug Pernikoff, DVM

Veterinary statistics suggest that by age 3 nearly 70-80% of our pets, both dogs and cats, suffer from some form of dental disease. While our critters do not typically have ‘cavity’ problems like humans, they do suffer from all sorts of other conditions. Most frequent is the condition called ‘periodontitis’ or periodontal disease, which is really infection and/or inflammation of those soft tissues surrounding the base of the tooth as it buries into the jaw. Over time, a layer of bacteria forms which is called dental ‘plaque’. If allowed to accumulate, the chemicals and saliva in the mouth allow for calcification of this material, which is visibly evident to us as dental ‘tartar’, or dental ‘calculus’. Now, you have a concretion that requires more aggressive management. Unfortunately, these accumulations are not easily removed, and certainly, when you visit your groomer, they will NOT be able to clean your pets’ teeth adequately. Over more time, the inflammation and infection will migrate from the tooth line up and possibly affecting the tooth root(s). And, when this occurs in the upper tooth arcade, you may end up with a root abscess that may enter the sinus cavity as well. Animals present with a swelling just under the eye. In other cases, there may be a rupture and the owner sees the infection spilling over as pus, which can be bloodied and very bad smelling. The end result may include a need for anesthesia and often, tooth extraction, in order to stop the active infection and allow for healing of the gums as well. Certainly, an ounce of prevention is much cheaper in the long run, than is the pound ($$$) and pain (to your pet), of the cure!

February is the month that the American Veterinary Community has designated as ‘Dental Health Month’ for our beloved pets. Often, your family veterinarian will host discount opportunities for dental care. Some breeds, especially larger dog breeds, may only require a formal dental cleaning procedure annually. Other, smaller lap breeds may require these dental cleansings as often as 3-4 times each year. In this way, we can protect our pocket books as well as the health and well-being of our pets. Your veterinarian and his staff can provide you instruction and guidance towards the care of your pooches and kitties. Most pet care programs encourage a general examination two times yearly. This is a great time to have your pet’s dentures examined. They will search for general tartar; gum infections(periodontal disease); cracked teeth that can lead to infections and chronic inflammation; tumors and cancer of the mouth or tongue, and maybe more.

A formal dental cleansing, with or without tooth extractions, typically encompasses a
pre-anesthetic blood examination, and an intravenous catheter to preceed general gas anesthesia. You may be surprised to find that the level of medical and technical sophistication regarding pet dental care, matches what is offered in human dental care. Your vet may suggest an X-ray of your pet’s tooth-line and associated boney jaw structures, and ultrasonic cleansing with polishing will help to assure a job well done. Finally, pets often go home with antibiotics and your vet may prescribe a product to coat the tooth enamel and help to deter further plaque and tartar. Remember also that infections festering in your pet’s mouth can find their way to other organs like the heart, kidney, liver and more. Again, the preventative action of regular examinations and regularly scheduled dental cleansings, can help prevent more serious disease syndromes in your family pets. This is an area of pet health costs that becomes a savings in pain, cost and hopefully, encourages a longer lived, healthier pet for your enjoyment. Good luck and have a great Pet Dental Health month. Dental care in your pets is a year round exercise.

Fondly, Dr. Doug
Please visit our booth at The Healthy Planet Natural Living Expo, Feb. 27 In Webster Groves.

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