National Pet Dental Health Month – GUEST ARTICLE

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Dogs and cats can’t brush their teeth. But foul breath and yellow-brown teeth are not only unappealing, they could indicate a serious gum disease. And that could lead to other health problems. Just like you want your kids happy teeth to be healthy and clean, your animals need the same kind of attention and due diligence.

Periodontal disease affects nearly 80 percent of all cats and dogs over the age of three. It starts as bacteria and progresses into a disease that can cause tooth decay, bleeding gums, tooth loss and even damage to the heart and other internal organs.

  • Dog Dental Facts – Puppies have 28 temporary teeth that erupt at about three to four weeks of age. They have 42 permanent teeth that begin to emerge at about four months.
  • Symptoms of gum disease in dogs include yellow and brown build –up of tartar along the gum line, inflamed gums and persistent bad breath.
  • Broken teeth are a common problem, especially among outdoor dogs. According to veterinary dental experts, aggressive chewing on hard objects, such as commercially available chew bones, is a primary cause of broken teeth in dogs.
  • Cat Dental Facts – Kittens have 26 temporary teeth that begin to erupt at about two to three weeks of age. They have 30 permanent teeth that erupt at about three to four months.
  • Symptoms of gum disease in cats are similar to dogs.
  • Cats can develop painful cervical line lesions. Studies show that about 28 percent of domestic cats develop at least one of these painful lesions during their lifetime.

Chew on These facts

  • Bacteria, combined with saliva and food debris between the tooth and gum, can cause plaque formulations that accumulate on the tooth. As bacteria grow in the plaque and as calcium salts are deposited, plaque turns to tartar.
  • If tartar is not removed from the teeth, pockets of pus may appear along the gum line and further separate the teeth from the gum, which allows more food and bacteria to accumulate.
  • Without proper treatment, this plaque and tartar buildup may cause periodontal disease, which affects the tissue and structure supporting the teeth.

Periodontitis is irreversible and may lead to other health problems. Unlike the inflamed gums of gingivitis, which can be treated and reversed with thorough plague removal and continued plaque control, periodontitis can only be contained to prevent progression. The disease causes red, swollen and tender gums, receding gums, bleeding, pain and bad breath. If left untreated, periodontitis can lead to tooth loss. The infection caused by this disease may enter the bloodstream, potentially infecting the heart, liver and kidneys.

Pet owners should look for warning signs of oral disease. Common indications include bad breath, a change in eating or chewing habits, pawing at face or mouth and depression. If any of these signs are present, the pet should be taken to the veterinarian for a dental exam.

The good news is that pet owners can reduce the risk of oral disease by following the American Veterinary Dental Society recommendations.

  • The first step in preventing oral disease is a routine physical examination including a dental exam.
  • Pet guardians should practice a regular dental care regimen at home, which may include brushing the pet’s teeth with specially formulated toothpaste. It’s best to start early, but grown dogs and cats can learn to tolerate brushing. Toothpaste for humans is not recommended because it may upset the pet’s stomach.

My two German Shepherds, Koby and K.C.’s personal favorite is chicken flavored toothpaste. But I have to be quick after I have put it on the toothbrush, because they will lick it off before I have a chance to clean their teeth. I’m sure other pet parents have experienced the same thing. Wonder if it is easier with a cat?

Schedule regular follow-up care with your family veterinarian and ask about specially formulated foods with proven benefits in plaque and tartar removal.

If you are wondering – can pets get cavities? Yes. Just like humans, your feline or canine can get cavities. But, they are relatively rare because their diets generally aren’t high in decay-causing sugars. Veterinary dental experts have noticed a mild rise in the incidence of cavities in your pet’s mouth, feed only food and treats designed for pets. No more Twinkies.

Veterinarians have noticed when dental problems have been corrected; Fido or Kitty appeared spunkier, instead of the old-acting pet that had been brought in. Just think about having the infection and pain that goes along with dental problems and you probably would not be all that active or tolerant either.

Dental disease is among the top pet problems and should not be ignored. With proper attention, your pet will live a longer, happier life.

Jacquie Randall

Volunteer Coordinator

Humane Society of Sedona