Dental disease is one of the most common problems seen in both dogs and cats. The signs are often vague in the earlier stages. They may eat the same amount of food but discomfort goes unnoticed while they are eating. Even if they do start to show signs, the progression in symptoms can be subtle enough that it goes unrecognized by owners as gradual behavior changes are hard to pick up on. The easiest way to detect dental disease is a thorough an examination of the mouth. Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums, and tartar build up can be identified on physical exam. When left, dental disease will lead to a receding gum line, infection, loose teeth and potential irreversible damage that may lead to loss of the teeth. Dental disease can also lead to systemic disease including infections, and irreversible heart or kidney disease.
Once tartar has built up on the teeth, professional scaling is necessary to remove it. The earlier in the process a cleaning is done the better. To be effective, the cleaning needs to be done under anesthesia so the inner and outer surfaces can be reached, as well as thorough cleaning under the gum line. Anesthesia is also important because a thorough polishing should be done after scaling to reduce the rapid accumulation of tartar after the cleaning. Precautions are taken to ensure the pets are safe while under anesthesia and while there is potential risk with any anesthetic process, the systemic problems that could occur when left untreated pose a much higher risk to their health.
The key to long term management is prevention. Tooth brushing is the best way to prevent, or at least slow the progression of dental disease. It is extremely important that pet specific toothpaste be used as human toothpaste has several ingredients not intended to be swallowed. Many human tooth pastes also contain a sugar substitute called xylitol that can be extremely toxic to dogs. The best way to get pets used to tooth brushing is starting early. Even before their adult teeth come in, getting a puppy or kitten accustomed to having their mouth examined and gums touched can help the process.
As important as brushing the teeth is, personal safety, as well as the safety of the pet should not be ignored. Some won’t tolerate it so be sure to make sure your pet will be comfortable by gently lifting the lips and touching the gums and teeth. Heed warning signs such as growling or hissing. There are some diets and chew treats available that also help to reduce the accumulation of tartar. However, if able, it is still important to brush the teeth daily as the diets and chews won’t be as thorough (in particular with the front teeth which are more for grasping than chewing).
Our professional and thorough doctors and staff can provide a treatment plan for your pet needs after a dental examination is performed.