Dental health for your pet always brings up lots of questions about dental cleaning. We asked one of our favorite local veterinarians, Dr. Adam Davis from Animal Hospital of South Bay, to share some common questions and answers about keeping your pet’s teeth in good condition.
How often does my dog or cat need a dental cleaning? At what age should they begin dental cleanings?
There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer for me. Lots of variables including species, breed, size of patient and frequency of oral health and home oral hygiene efforts by owners should be considered. This is one of the many reasons that regular wellness exams are so important. A good veterinarian will always evaluate a pet’s teeth for signs of plaque accumulation, gingivitis and periodontal disease. One can likely expect initial recommendations to pursue a dental cleaning by age 3 for most pets and then every 1-2 years thereafter.
My pet has bad breath. Are bad teeth and gums the cause?
Halitosis, also called bad breath, is an offensive odor emanating from the oral cavity and a very common issue. The most common cause is periodontal disease caused by plaque (bacteria). Bacteria are attracted to the tooth surface and over time it becomes mineralized. As plaque ages and gingivitis develops into periodontitis (bone loss), bacteria changes from somewhat irritating strains to bone destroying types that produce hydrogen sulfide causing the terrible smell.
What’s the difference between plaque and tartar?
These terms are often used interchangeably. However, technically speaking, plaque is a sticky, colorless film containing bacteria that builds up naturally on tooth surfaces, especially along the gum line. Tartar is formed when residual plaque on the surface of the teeth reacts with minerals in your saliva. Tartar is a yellow or brown colored deposit that forms when plaque mineralizes on your teeth. Plaque can be removed via brushing, whereas tartar cannot.
What can happen if my pets teeth are not cleaned?
The accumulation of plaque and tartar will eventually lead to oral pain, infection, inflammation and may require tooth extraction.
What steps can I do at home to continue good dental hygiene for my pet?
There are several measures recommended for pet owners that are intended to improve dental health and control or prevent plaque and accumulation of tartar. These include brushing teeth, utilization of dental chews and treats along with healthy diet selection. All are great ways to slow and prevent progression of dental disease between anesthetic dental cleanings.
Do all pets have to be put under general anesthesia for a routine dental cleaning?
There are anesthetic and non-anesthetic dental cleanings to maintain good dental health. Non-anesthetic teeth cleaning is the equivalent of a good brushing. However, in order to get under the gum line, where periodontal disease lurks, sharp tools are required and general anesthesia is required. Unlike with human patients, you simply cannot instruct a cat or dog to sit still and it would be dangerous to perform a dental cleaning on a non-anesthetized animal patient. Anesthesia also provides an opportunity for clinicians to thoroughly examine all aspects of the mouth and obtain dental x-rays. Intubation of patients while under anesthesia also protects the airways from dislodged bacteria and fluid entry into the lungs.
Can dental disease be reversed in my pet?
Yes, up until the end-stage of periodontal disease, at which point extraction of teeth may be required, a dental cleaning can remove tartar from under the gum line and allow for soft tissue healing before it can progress further.
Does dental health in my pet influence their overall health?
While bad breath is the most common effect noted by owners, this is often only the tip of the iceberg. As plaque and tartar accumulate, the gums become irritated, leading to bleeding and oral pain, and your cat or dog may lose its appetite or drop food from its mouth while eating. The roots may become so severely affected that some teeth become loose and fall out. Bacteria surrounding the roots can then gain access to the bloodstream (“bacteremia”). Studies have shown that cats and dogs with severe periodontal disease have more severe microscopic damage in their kidneys, heart muscle and liver than do cats and dogs with less severe periodontal disease.