February is National Pet Health Dental Month, which helps raise awareness that the number one health issue in our pets is periodontal disease. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats will develop dental disease by the age of three. Pet owners are often not aware of the severity of dental disease in their pets until the periodontitis progresses. Signs of dental disease include: poor appetite, bad breath, preferential chewing on one side, excessive drooling with discolored discharge and facial swelling.
Teeth are held in position by the periodontium, which is made up of the gums (or gingiva), periodontal ligament and the alveolar bone in the mouth. When the periodontium becomes infected or inflamed because of plaque bacteria the result is periodontitis. This condition affects all three areas resulting in tooth attachment loss, gingival recession and bone infection. The result of this condition is often painful gum disease and tooth loss. Oral surgery is necessary in many cases to extract the loose teeth and eliminate the infection. It is important to stay on top of periodontitis going forward because the bacteria can invade the bloodstream and cause systemic infections involving the liver, kidneys and heart.
The gold standard for managing periodontal disease is: diagnosis by an oral exam, treatment under anesthesia, administration of antibiotics and pain relievers, followed by daily toothbrushing and dental diets. Daily brushing is very effective. Plaque is soft and easily clean with a brush or wipes. If the plaque is allowed to accumulate for a few days it will mineralize and form tartar that is difficult to remove. There are pet toothbrushes that are angled which helps for brushing the back molars. Cats and small dogs often prefer finger brushes. Pet toothpastes have enzymes that are much more effective at dissolving plaque and also have abrasives to help with calculus (tartar).
There are many products on the market for oral health in pets such as oral rinses and gels. Be sure to check for the seal of approval from the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). Some dental chews have proven to be effective, especially the rawhide chews that are impregnated with medications. The medically proven dental diets are large kibbles that have fiber strands which are aligned to mechanically scrub the teeth and remove plaque and tartar.
If you suspect your pets have dental disease and could use a good cleaning, make an appointment with your veterinarian to have an oral exam. Early treatment will certainly keep your pet healthy and free of dental infection and pain.