Excerpts taken from the AAHA Pet Care Library
Would you let years go by between visits to the dentist? Probably not! Your pet’s dental health is just as important to his or her overall health as your dental health is to your general health.
Why Dental Care?
Dental care of dogs and cats is one of the most commonly overlooked areas of pet health care. The American Veterinary Dental Society reports that 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age three.
Dental disease doesn’t affect just the mouth. It can lead to more serious health problems including heart, lung and kidney disease, which makes it all the more important that you provide your pets with proper dental care from the start.
Bad breath isn’t something to be ignored – this could be indicative of an oral problem, and the sooner you have it treated by your veterinarian (and learn to care for it yourself), the sooner you and your pet can smile proudly.
Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissue surrounding the teeth that takes hold in progressive stages. It starts out as a bacterial film called plaque. The bacteria attach to the teeth.
When the bacteria die they can be calcified by calcium in saliva. This forms a hard, rough substance called tartar or calculus which allows more plaque to accumulate. Initially, plaque is soft and brushing or chewing hard food and toys can dislodge it. If left to spread, plaque can lead to gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums, causing them to become red and swollen and to bleed easily.
In the final stages of periodontal disease, the tissues surrounding the tooth are destroyed, the bony socket holding the tooth in erodes and the tooth becomes loose. This is a very painful process for your four-legged friend, but these problems can be averted before they even start.
Dental Care at the Veterinary Practice
There are two critical components of your pet’s veterinary dental care: oral examinations and dental cleanings. As your pet ages, your veterinarian will look for developmental anomalies, the accumulation of plaque and tartar, periodontal disease and oral tumors.
Veterinarians can perform a basic oral examination on patients that are awake. However, a short-lasting anesthetic is required in order to provide a complete and thorough examination as well as dental cleanings.
Pre-anesthetic exam — Whenever anesthesia is needed, special considerations are taken to help ensure the safety of your pet. Your veterinarian will thoroughly examine your pet to make sure she’s healthy enough to undergo anesthesia. Depending on your pet’s age and general physical condition, your veterinarian may also run blood, urine, electrocardiograph, and x-ray tests to check for any dangerous heart, kidney, or other conditions. Though there is some risk associated with any medical procedure, modern anesthesia is usually safe, even for older pets.
Anesthesia monitoring — During anesthesia, the monitoring and recording of your pet’s vital signs (such as body temperature, heart rate, and respiration, as well as other important factors) is important. This helps ensure the safety of your pet while undergoing anesthesia.
Scaling & Polishing — Veterinarians are advised to use similar instruments as human dentists to remove plaque and calculus from your pet’s teeth. To smooth out any scratches in the tooth enamel, polishing with a special paste is also recommended.
Fluoride/sealants — The application of an anti-plaque substance, such as a fluoride treatment is also advised. This can help strengthen and desensitize teeth as well as decrease future plaque.
Home Dental Care - Your pet’s dental care doesn’t rest with your veterinarian alone. As a pet owner, you play a pivotal role in helping ensure your pet’s dental health through regular teeth brushing.
Remember... pets can live longer, healthier lives if oral health care is managed and maintained throughout their lives. In fact, proper dental care may add as much as five years to your pet’s life! Talk to your veterinarian about developing a dental care plan for your furry friend.
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Wishing You and Your Pet Many Years of Good Breath, Shiny Smiles, and Good Oral Health,
Kelly M. Heiman, NRVT.LVT
Program Coordinator: Direct Airport Release