Your Companion Animal Dental Care
There are a lot of similarities between our human teeth and our companion animal’s teeth. Just like us, our dog or cat have two sets of teeth, the deciduous, or baby teeth, and the permanent adult teeth. Just like us, the baby teeth fall out when the adult teeth are ready to move in. And just like us, the baby teeth are a bit sharper and smaller than our adult teeth. The difference starts at timing. Dogs and cats start losing their baby teeth much earlier than we do, around 12 weeks old. We don’t start losing our baby teeth until around 6 or 7 year old. Also, most pet owners never notice when the dog or cat lose these teeth, as they are usually swallowed or lost in the environment. Unfortunately, our puppies and kitties don’t usually get a treat from the Tooth Fairy.
This is just one similarity. There are a few more. For example, dogs and cats (and most other animals) need regular dental maintenance to ensure a healthy mouth.
Benefits of Good Oral Health in Companion Animals
When our teeth and mouth are in good health, we feel good. We feel good about our outward appearance. We smile more. We eat better. In general, our overall health is better. And this is the same for our animal companions. Dogs and cats don’t smile like we do, but they do show off their teeth during times of affection. When their teeth and gums are well cared for, they tend to be more affectionate. They eat better as well. If their mouths aren’t in pain, animals eat with vigor and enthusiasm. When their mouths are in pain from various problems, dogs and cats don’t seem to eat as much, and may even show signs of being picky about what they eat. And good oral health means our companion animals general health is good, which means they will stay with us longer.
5 Common but Major Dental Problems Our Pets Can Experience
Over 80% of dogs over the age of 3 and cats over the age of 6 suffer from significant oral pathology and problems. That’s a fairly astounding percentage if you think about it. Those dogs and cats are silently suffering from some sort of gum disease or other dental ailment. You know how miserable you feel when you have a lot of plaque/tartar build up on your teeth, or a tooth is loose or your gums are inflamed? Your pooch or kitty may experience that same pain and discomfort, unfortunately, they can rarely let us know this.
There are 5 common Dental Problems our companion animals can suffer from.
5. Loose Teeth
By 8 months old, dogs and cats should be well on their way to a full mouth for permanent teeth. Before this point, loose or lost teeth should not be a major concern, as they are just shedding their baby teeth. But after they get that new set of adult teeth, loose or lost teeth should become a concern. Dogs will have 42 adult teeth and cats will have 30. For an adult dog or cat, a loose tooth is more suspect, and is usually a result of either trauma to the mouth or from gum loss due to advanced periodontal disease. Sometimes a loose tooth can also be a symptom of an illness.
4. Misaligned Teeth
Many dogs are known for their distinctive bite. But if an animal suffers from a severe misalignment of their teeth or jaw they could end up having trouble eating. Unlike humans, dogs and cats are not obsessed with aesthetic beauty of their teeth. Slight misalignments are not something to be terribly concerned with. Most of the time vets won’t even point it out if they notice it first. And when a pet-parent brings it up, vets will usually assure the parent there is no cause for alarm, unless it is disrupting their eating or drinking abilities. If the dog or cat’s bite seems to cause the animal problems (a tooth is rubbing against the soft tissue or eating seems to be cumbersome or clumsy) get your companion evaluated by a veterinary dentist. The vet dentist won’t give your dog or cat braces, but they do have ways to realign the teeth, or may provide relief by extracting the tooth or capping it.
3. Tooth Trauma
This is more common in dogs than cats. Does your pooch love to chew on toys, rawhides or bones? If he does, make sure you pay attention to what he’s chewing on. Rigid, solid objects can crack or break your dog’s teeth. Broken or cracked teeth can also happen as a result of impact injuries, tugging games or playing too rough. A crack or broken tooth may have an exposed nerve, which will cause a significant amount of pain. Eventually, that nerve may die and the pain will subside, but the problem is not over. The broken or cracked tooth is now susceptible to infection, which can introduce bacteria into the bloodstream.
2. Tooth Root Abscess
One of the most painful oral problems our companion animals can experience is tooth root abscess. This happens when the root of the tooth becomes exposed to bacteria, usually from a cracked or broken tooth (see how this all ties together?) or advanced gum damage such as periodontal disease and an infection has set in. The pain can be excruciating. And our beloved pets can suffer extensively when this happens.
1: Periodontal Disease
Oh, periodontal disease, what problems it can cause. (Here’s human periodontal disease.) When plaque builds up on your cat or dog’s teeth and is left unattended it can become tartar, a brownish substance. As it builds more and more the tartar will move under the gum line causing red, inflamed gums called gingivitis. This develops into periodontal disease if left untreated and progresses. When this problem becomes periodontal disease, it can cause gum damage, gum loss and that eventually leads to tooth loss and infections.
The best way to avoid any and all of these problems for your dog and cat’s oral health is routine dental care, just like us.
How does poor animal dental health affect our beloved pets?
According to Dr. Ken Lambrecht, preventative care veterinarian, and Dr. Gretchen May, integrative care veterinarian of West Towne Veterinary Center here in Madison, dental disease is the most common disease diagnosed in adult dogs and cats, with most pets over the age of three showing some signs of periodontal disease. Many of our pets will not show any evidence of the discomfort or pain associated with periodontal disease. Often the only sign noted at home is bad breath. In addition to being a chronic source of pain in our pets, dental disease may also result in serious systemic illnesses such as heart, liver and kidney disease.
Dr. Jason Soukup, Assistant Professor and Residency Director of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin Madison, explains that periodontal disease is known to complicate systemic disease and vise versa. For example, uncontrolled periodontal disease significantly complicates management of diabetes mellitus. In addition, fractured teeth often go years without being diagnosed. This culminates in years of oral pain and seriously diminished general quality of life.
What can the veterinary dentist do if our pets develop dental concerns?
The veterinary dentist’s goal is to take problem teeth and try to make them functional for your pet. In general, the quality of dental care that can be provided is similar to that provided to humans. Veterinary dentists who spend at least 3 years after veterinary school studying nothing but dentistry and oral surgery can and do provide periodontal therapy, endodontic treatments, crown restorations, orthodontics and major oral surgery, just like your dentist provides for you.
What can pet-Parents do to help keep their pets teeth looking good?
It may seem like a weird concept, but in order to keep your dog or cat’s mouth clean and plaque free, we, as humans with opposable thumbs, need to brush our pet’s teeth. If you start brushing your animals teeth at an early age, they tend not to mind it as much as they get older. This animal dental care practice is just as important as it is for humans and should happen at least once a day (but most vets understand our animals may not enjoy having their teeth brushed and recommend brushing their teeth at least 3 times a week).
Home care can also come in the form of Veterinary Oral Health Council approved foods, treats, barrier sealants and water additives. Crunchy foods and treats help sweep plaque build up from teeth, as well as allowing your dog to chew on rawhide or your cat to enjoy a regular crunchy treat.
Your veterinarian can also help create a personalized dental home care plan, as well as perform regular oral/dental examinations and professional cleanings. When you go in for your dog or cat’s regular wellness check ups, your vet always looks in your pet’s mouth. Usually they will point out plaque/tartar build up and recommend home cleanings as well as specific things sold at the vet clinic for dental maintenance. This may seem like a scam, like their just trying to strong arm you into buying expensive stuff with no real purpose, but it’s not. If a vet is pointing out things for your attention, and recommending treatments, it is for your pet’s own good. Granted, most of the time you can find less expensive alternatives in pet stores or on the internet. But try not to disregard their advice, they are looking out for your pet’s teeth.
Your pet’s dental care is not just for your dog or cats better health, but if they have a better quality of life, than your companion will remain your healthy, happy friend longer. And it’s been proven that will help you live a longer, happier life. We love our companion animals like family. We should treat every aspect of their wellness as we would any other family member, with love and respect and attention.
Follow the link for the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s (VOHC) approved list of at-home dental care products: http://www.vohc.org/accepted_products.htm
Affiliated Dentists would like to thank the helpful and informative veterinarians and clinical staff of West Towne Veterinary Center, and Dr. Jason Soukup of the Veterinary School of Medicine, UW Madison. They provided a lot of the information in this blog in the hopes pet-parents will start taking more responsibility for their animal dental care.