At Fountain City Animal Hospital, we are deeply dedicated to helping you keep your pet’s teeth and gums healthy. Without any doubt, dental disease is the most common disease in dogs and cats, and sadly, the most under-treated. By the age of 3 years, 50% of cats and 85% of dogs have dental problems serious enough to warrant veterinary intervention, often requiring tooth extraction. Imagine the condition your mouth might be in if you didn’t brush your teeth for years on end. In animals, just as in humans, tartar begins in the mouth as plaque, a film of bacteria that can be scrubbed away by brushing, but in less than 36 hours, plaque begins to harden into tartar which then leads to gum disease. As tartar accumulates, infection attacks the area around the tooth root and destroys the surrounding tissue and bone that holds the tooth in place.
The results of unchecked dental disease in dogs and cats are no different from what humans experience and include the potential for inflammation and infection of other organs (heart, liver, kidneys), tooth loss, halitosis, and pain. Dogs and cats have evolved to be masters of masking pain (in the wild, any sign of weakness can lead to lower standing in the pack hierarchy or to be seen as prey rather than predator), but we know unequivocally that the progression of dental disease is considerably painful. Cats can experience a particularly painful phenomenon known as resorptive lesions, which are not much to look at but will result in exquisite pain. In these situations, the tooth enamel erodes and eventually exposes the dentin and pulp canal which houses the tooth’s blood vessels and nerves. The cause of resorptive lesions is still not understood, and their only treatment is extraction of the affected tooth.
Most owners’ hesitation to having their pets dental needs attended to stem from the need for general anesthesia for what superficially might seem an unimportant or even frivolous procedure. The fact is, however, that the threat to your pet’s overall health and quality of life as a result of unchecked dental disease far outweighs any small risk of anesthetic complications, even in geriatric patients with multiple chronic health conditions. We use the same careful control and monitoring protocols for our patients under anesthesia for dental work as we do for any patient undergoing major surgery.
Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take at home to help prevent dental disease in your pets. Supplying appropriate chew toys is the easiest, but there are a few to definitely avoid, including animal bones of any kind, nylabones that are too hard to flex or stick a fingernail into, and hooves. All of these have been known to cause teeth to fracture instead of having the desired healthy effect. Toothbrushing is easier than you might think, but it’s important to brush only with veterinary approved toothpaste, and having a specialized pet toothbrush helps as well. Human toothpaste can actually cause heavy metal toxicity from the fluoride, and gastro-intestinal upsets are possible as well. Baking soda, high in salt, can harm pets with heart or kidney disease. Lastly, using an appropriate high quality kibble-type dry food as part of your pet’s regular diet will also help reduce the need for our intervention.