February is Pet Dental Month!

By Dr. Doug Pernikoff, DVM

February starts the annual PET DENTAL MONTH, and subsequently, this is a great time to discuss dental disease in our pets, both dogs and cats. Unfortunately, pet owner compliance for pet dental care is estimated to be around 33% or less. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), presents data confirming the presence of periodontal disease in dogs(80%) and cats(70%), by 3 years of age. This condition is the most prevalent disease syndrome we see in most pets.

Periodontal disease is the end stage condition of a common sequential process of dental and gum (gingival) disease that starts with bacterial plaques sticking to the tooth surface and along the gum border. Inflammation follows, and over time, as the dead bacteria/plaque mix with the saliva, minerals cause a concretion to form, called calculus. As the process works its way under the gum line, and sometimes, deep along the root wall, the inflammation and infection can loosen the ligamentous structures that secure the tooth in its socket. The result can be loose teeth, infected roots, infected and highly inflamed gums and more. Just as with humans, dental infections can enter the blood stream and colonize areas in the heart, lungs, kidneys, and most anywhere else in the body, causing serious illness or even death. So, with our beloved pets, management and dental husbandry are the keys to keeping your pets free of dental disease and associated maladies, as presented above.

The signs of dental disease can be very subtle, or very obvious. The best suggestion is to be diligent about veterinary visits. Most pet owners should visit their veterinarian at least 2x each year. Your vet will perform a thorough examination, and should very quickly provide an assessment of your pet’s dental condition. An annual dental cleansing is often very sensible and appropriate. I have found that small, lap type dogs accumulate calculi much worse and more frequently than larger breeds. The subtle signs might be early plaque and calculus accumulation on the very back molars, and often on the larger canine teeth up front. Your vet will likely grade the condition and tell you if a formal cleansing is best. With more advanced disease, we find varying degrees of redness to the gum line, or pus along the gingival margin. Teeth may be fused together with calculus and often, you can note very loose dentition. Often, I hear my clients respond to my findings with comments like, “Oh, he always has bad breath!”. I always wonder why they don’t take a peak to find the obvious reasons for that smell? Oh, well! I am just happy that they are here visiting. In both dogs and cats, signs other than odor, might include drooling, receding gums, red gums that bleed very easily with minimal contact, weight loss with a history of NOT FEEDING as is normal, or general irritability, a result of the pain and discomfort that comes with sore gums and infections.

Dental cleansings require a general anesthesia, meaning your pet will be under for the procedure. Your veterinarian will perform a blood exam along with a general physical to ensure a safe exercise for your family pet. The teeth are either manually scaled with dental instruments, or are cleansed with an ultrasonic unit, followed by a formal polishing and finally, the application of a fluoride kind of covering. This latter step is something that pet owners need to follow up with on an every 2 week interval. Cleansings at home should be 2x each week, minimally. There are many pet toothpaste products and applicators available. I like the structure that fits right over your index finger, and you can rub the tooth and surface gently with the paste, using the bristled face of the structure.

Don’t be surprised to find that your veterinarian sends you home with antibiotics and maybe even anti-inflammatory medicines, depending on the degree of disease present. Finally, you might ask your veterinarian about discounts for National Dental Month in February.

Help your pets well-being by instituting a reasonable dental management program soon.

Good luck!
Fondly, Dr. Doug & Staff
Clarkson-Wilson Veterinary Clinic
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