Issue XXVI – “Smile, its dental health month!”
Hello everyone! I hope you all enjoyed the Super Bowl and had a wonderful Valentine’s Day! My Mom and Dad love football, so they were pretty interested in the big game. They were disappointed that our Buffalo Bills didn’t make it into the playoffs yet again this year. Maybe someday soon they’ll get us back to the big show! That’s what we’re all hoping at least! Valentine’s Day was nice too, my Mom and Dad celebrated together with a special dinner out and made sure that Sox and I both got special treats! We can’t have chocolate though because that’s bad for dogs and cats, it hard to believe that something that tastes so good (or so I hear) can be so bad for us animals, but Mom knows best!
What I really want to talk to you about though, in light of the fact that February is Pet Dental Health Month, is the importance of oral hygiene in our pets. Periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition in cats and dogs even though it’s completely preventable. Bad breath, red and inflamed gums, and yellow to brownish tartar are just a few things that you may notice in your own pet’s mouth that could indicate that your pet has periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is not only a problem of the teeth and gums, but can also affect the health and function of the rest of the internal organs.
Periodontal disease begins when bacteria in the mouth form plaque, then minerals in the saliva harden the plaque into tartar that forms on teeth. The tartar on the outer surface of the teeth becomes obvious to pet owners, but it’s not the cause of periodontal disease. The real problem begins when the tartar spreads under the gum line, causing loss of the structures that support the tooth, leading to gingival recession, bone loss, loose teeth, bone infection, and even fractures of the jaw.
I know that all sounds really scary, but the good news is that like I said before, it’s all completely preventable! Making sure that you bring your pet into your veterinarian for regular oral health exams and dental cleanings can keep your pet’s mouth and body happy and healthy. Regular teeth brushing at home is imperative to maintaining a healthy mouth! People go to great lengths to ensure their breath smells fresh and their teeth are clean. We should be doing the same for our pets! Your dog or cat can’t raise their paw to let you know that something hurts in their mouth. Your veterinarian has to be the patient’s advocate and provide proper dental care for the overall health and wellbeing of your pet.
Mom has been brushing my teeth since I was a puppy, so I am very much accustomed to the process by now, and I even look forward to it because I get a special frozen treat when we are finished! Mom made sure to make the process fun and enjoyable for me so that I would like it. First of all, she uses a pet-friendly, vanilla mint flavored toothpaste, which sometimes I like to lick right off the toothbrush! In the beginning, to help me get used to the whole process, she started by rubbing some of the toothpaste on my teeth with her finger, she gradually worked up to using a finger brush and eventually a regular soft bristled toothbrush that we use now.
The best advice I can give pet owners just starting to brush their pet’s teeth is to go slowly and work up to the brush. If this is something you have never done with your pet before, they are likely not going to be very receptive to the toothbrush right away. Start slow, using just your finger at first, maybe using a gauze square wrapped around your finger to brush the teeth, then moving onto the finger brush and toothbrush if you can eventually. Also, make brushing a positive experience by giving your pet a special treat after they are done so they have something to look forward to and make a positive association with the brushing.
It is very important that before you plan to start brushing your pet’s teeth that you have an oral examination performed by your pet’s regular veterinarian to make sure that there are no problems in the mouth. Many pets will already have periodontal disease if you have never brushed their teeth before and they may likely need a dental cleaning to address the disease present in the mouth, on the teeth, and especially below the gum line before beginning an oral hygiene program at home.
Even though daily teeth brushing is the “gold standard” for keeping your pet’s teeth, gums, and mouth healthy, there are also many great dental treats, toys, and chews available to help too! Ask your veterinarian which tools would be best for your pet before beginning any oral hygiene program at home. Below you can find a list of resources that I put together for pet owners to reference as they consider starting an oral hygiene routine at home for their pet. Of course if you have any questions, you can ask me, my Mom, or one of the other great veterinarians at Sheridan Animal Hospital for advice! Happy brushing everyone!!!