Pet Talk: Taking care of your pet’s teeth
It’s February and the weather is cold outside, and of course you may be thinking more about how you will get to work or school today rather than the condition of your pet’s teeth, but little did you know, February is National Pet Dental Health month.
At the beginning of each year, we are all thinking of our own medical and dental appointments, but it is easy to forget that our pet’s need dental care, too. Every February, we remind our pet owners that is time for their pet’s annual dental exam to assess their individual dental care needs.
Pet’s are very prone to many types of dental disease and often times, unless a pet has stopped eating, is salivating heavily or has bad breath, the pet may go extended periods of time with pain and infection in the mouth without the owner’s knowledge that a problem even exists. Because the mouth has an active blood supply, dangerous bacteria in the mouth can then spread to the pet’s organs, causing systemic disease.
Therefore, awareness of dental issues in pets and regular checkups are critical in establishing a good dental health program for your pet.
There are many types of pathology that can be detected during your pet’s dental examinations and routine cleanings.
First of all: periodontal disease. Did you know that because pets don’t routinely brush their teeth, that periodontal disease sets in as early as 3 years old in pets?
When bacteria in the mouth combine with bacteria and attach to the tooth as plaque, the plaque and calculus begin to grow under the gum line and cause damage to the supporting structures of the tooth and eventually result in subgingival infections and tooth loss.
Secondly, tooth fractures can be found. Fractured teeth can be full thickness cuts through the center of the tooth, or even just damage to the enamel of the tooth. Unfortunately, any damage to the tooth makes the underlying root vulnerable to infection and results in eventual loss of the tooth. By early detection, new techniques have now been discovered that can repair the teeth and avoid a surgical extraction in the future.
Other Dental Ailments
Absessed teeth can also be found. Many times, these teeth will be discolored and have mobility. These teeth can be very painful for your pet and should be removed surgically.
Resorptive lesions are the more common pathology found on dental examinations of cats. These are holes, which often develop at the gum line and result in subgingival infections, pain and eventual loss of the tooth in cats.
Oral cancers as well as benign tumors are also discovered during dental examinations. Early detection and staging of these tumors give a better chance of giving your pet a more positive outcome
Upon dental examination, your veterinarian will carefully chart any problem areas found in your pet’s mouth and may suggest an annual cleaning. During the cleaning, a more in-depth examination can be made while your pet is carefully sedated, to assure no dangerous bacteria or plaque particles enter the respiratory system. It is during this exam that we are able to continue to evaluate further for pockets indicating degree of periodontal disease, mobility, resorptive lesions, fractured teeth and oral cancers.
In recent years, veterinary medicine has followed its human counterpart with dental radiography. It is impossible, as we all know, to assess disease below the gum line in pets with just the human eye. Dental radiography has helped discover innumerable types of pathology in pets’ mouths that would otherwise have gone undetected.
So this February, take charge of your pet’s dental care. Get an appointment with your regular veterinarian and start your pet’s year out being proactive about dental health.
Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM, is the owner of Mountain Animal Hospital Center and Mobile Veterinarian.