February is rapidly approaching, and we want to remind owners that this month is Pet Dental Health Month! We can’t underestimate the importance of the oral health of our pets. Dental disease is one of the most common findings on physical exams of pets of all ages.
Dental disease runs the spectrum from gingivitis (mild inflammation of the gum) to severe periodontitis. Periodontitis can lead to mouth infection and tooth loss.
It is not uncommon for owners to not recognize the full extent of a pet’s dental health problems. A simple oral exam can give us some idea of what the issues are. However, a complete oral exam under anesthesia including full mouth x-rays gives us the best picture of a pet’s oral health.
It is not uncommon for us to find fractured, loose or abscessed teeth that we are unable to see when your pet is awake. When we schedule your pet for a dental cleaning under anesthesia, we are doing much more than just removing visible tartar.
Once the surfaces of the teeth are cleaned, hidden calculus below the gum line is removed as well. Pockets below the gum line (periodontal pockets) are probed and evaluated. This helps us determine if they pose a threat to the health of the tooth.
X-Rays let us see the structure of the tooth below the gum line. They help us identify hidden fractures, abscesses or other problem.
Dental cleaning is important to diagnose and treat dental health problems, but the most important preventative work is done at home with regular tooth brushing.
All animals naturally build up food debris on the teeth after eating. Soft food debris is called plaque and is easily removed by brushing. It only takes a couple of days for the action of bacteria on the plaque to mineralize it into the harder calculus (tartar).
Once the tartar has developed, it can no longer be removed by brushing and requires specialized dental tools to remove. Once the tartar starts to build up along the gum line, it creates a pocket or groove that bacteria can hide in. As the bacteria release their inflammatory enzymes, this causes inflammation of the gingiva (gums) and the periodontal space. This inflammation damages the gums and underlying bone of the jaw. Ultimately the gums recede, exposing more and more of the tooth root and even destroying the bones that the teeth are anchored in. Severe dental disease can weaken the jaw to the point where the jaw is at increased risk of fracture.
You should start brushing your pet’s teeth at home when they are young to get them used to it. This way you can minimize the build up of plaque and calculus for a lifetime of better oral health.
So start thinking about your pet’s oral health and begin brushing today!