What's up with that doggy breath?

An overview on pet dental health

Do you know the most common disease of our US human population, as well as our US pet population? You might have guessed correct: the most common disease in our country is gum disease. According to statistics of the CDC, 85-90% of human adults suffer from some stage of gum disease. It does not look much different in our pet population: the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS) reports that about 8 -9 out of 10 dogs and 7 out of 10 cats have some form of dental health issues. You probably wonder why this is so significant since many dogs “inhale” their food and do not really rely on their teeth when eating. However, gum health has a significant impact on overall health.

Like humans, our pets suffer from most of the same oral health p roblems – namely dental tartar, gingivitis and periodontal disease. Cavities are luckily not a big problem since our pets don’t consume too much sugary foods.

Let’s look at the different stages of dental problems in our beloved pets: Dental tartar develops from bacteria mixed with saliva that coats the teeth as plaque. The first areas to form plaque or tartar are usually the maxillary premolars and molars, which are the back teeth of the upper jaws. The plaque creates irritation of the gum line, which then lead to inflammation and some gum infection. This is termed gingivitis and classified as stage 1 dental disease. It is usually visible as reddened gums adjacent to teeth with dental plaque or calculus. At this stage, the disease process is still reversible if the teeth are professionally scaled and clea ned by a veterinarian.

If the gum infection proceeds to periodontal disease, there is permanent damage to the attachment of the tooth to the jaw bone and often even the bone itself. Longstanding plaque and gingivitis allows for bacteria to invade the space between teeth and the jaw bone, creating pockets and loosening of the dental cement that attaches the tooth to the bone. In very bad cases, the infection causes resorption of bone and further loosening of the teeth. Depending on the severity of bone loss and attachment, the tooth might need to be extracted to prevent further damage to the bone. When periodontal disease is present, dental disease gets classified as stage 2,3 or 4 depending on the severity of pockets and bone resorption.

Cats are a little different than dogs. Cats can mount an im mense immune response to the dental plaque or calculus that results in very bad gingivitis and stomatitis (inflammation of all mucous membranes in the mouth). It tends to be very painful and sometimes the only cure is to extract affected teeth. Regardless, the cat needs to have the dental calculus removed by a professional teeth cleaning at your veterinarian. Cats can also suffer from enamel loss right at the gum line termed Feline Orthodontic Resoprtive Lesions (FORLs), which is extremely painful. Many cats refuse to eat dry food and start losing weight. Affected teeth need to be extracted to give the cat comfort and quality of life.

Oral health has a big impact on overall health, since bacteria and inflammatory by-products can get inhaled or get released into the blood stream and circulate through the body. Heart valves, the lungs, liver and kidneys are all organs that can become affected by t he dental infection resulting in endocarditis with secondary heart murmurs and circulatory disturbances , chronic lung inflammation, hepatitis or nephritis. These can shorten your pets life span by up to 2 years.

You can notice dental disease in your pet because of his bad breath termed halitosis, increased salivation, visible dental tartar or even reluctance to eat. If there is dental calculus build up, the best thing to do is having his teeth professionally scaled and cleaned by a veterinarian. You probably wonder what you can do at home to prevent dental disease in your pet. After the professional dental prophylaxix or in a young pet without any dental disease, an oral hygiene regimen needs to be implemented. The first and best thing is regular teeth brushing – yes you heard right. Brushing your pet’s teeth will remove early plaque and bacteria to prevent calculus formation. It can take several weeks to get your pet used to having his teeth brushed – there are pet toothbrushes and toothpaste available at your veterinarian’s office. You can also use rubber brushes that fit over a finger or gauze pads to clean your pet’s te eth. Please make sure you use a doggy- / kitty-toothpaste since it needs to be fluoride free because our pets swallow it, and many pet toothpastes have the added benefit of pleasant taste (yummy chicken instead of mint or bubblegum), and enzymes that help with plaque degradation. If brushing your pet’s teeth is impossible, there are many dental treats and oral hygiene rinses available that help reduce bacterial numbers in the mouth and break-down some plaque. Dental treats or chews often provide mechanical abrasion of the plaque, as well as they cause an increase in salivation, which provides enzymes that reduce bacteria and plaque as well.

Let’s get brushing, pets!