Periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition in dogs and cats, even though it’s completely preventable, according to the American Veterinary Medicine Association. In fact, about 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats have some form of periodontal disease by age three.
And it’s more than an annoying case of dog breath, veterinarians say. Dental disease not only causes damage to teeth and gums, it can affect internal organs, like the heart, kidney, and liver.
“With regular checkups and preventive care, most of these serious problems can be avoided,” said Matthew Woodington, DVM, owner of Woodington Veterinary in Eagle, Idaho.
On a chilly Saturday afternoon, Dr. Woodington gave a talk to a local dog club called Must Love Dogs, Eagle Idaho. The event was held in February, which is National Pet Dental Health Month, and featured a Valentine’s Day theme. The message? If you love your pets, brush their teeth between professional cleanings, and know the signs of dental disease.
Most people are in the habit of brushing their teeth twice a day, to remove plaque before it hardens into tartar. Daily brushing is recommended for dogs and cats as well, but even three times a week can help prevent inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and bacteria under the gums (periodontitis). Together, these two conditions are considered periodontal disease.
Most dental disease occurs below the gum line, where you can’t see it, Dr. Woodington explained. The trapped bacteria cause infection that can damage teeth, roots, and the tissues that connect the teeth to the jawbone. This bacteria from tartar also enters the bloodstream, eventually damaging vital organs. That’s why veterinarians recommend regular dental cleanings performed at the clinic, under anesthesia.
The American Veterinary Medicine Association does not support anesthesia-free dental cleanings. Alert animals will experience stress and pain during the procedure, which can result in less-than-thorough cleaning below the gum line—where it is needed most (not to mention irritable pets are likely to bite!). In addition, X-rays may be needed to determine the extent of disease if it is advanced.
Not all pet parents adopt a puppy and provide a lifetime of good dental hygiene, like brushing with a pet-friendly, soft-bristled toothbrush or finger brush spread with tasty pet toothpaste in chicken, peanut butter, or beef favors. Some families welcome adult dogs from shelters or breeders who may not have administered regular preventive care. In those cases, knowing the signs of dental disease could be lifesaving.
Red gums and yellowing teeth, bad breath, and mouth tenderness are all signs of dental disease, according to Dr. Woodington. Painful chewing, dropping food, and loose or broken teeth, along with poor appetite and weight loss, indicate advanced disease.
Call your vet to schedule treatment immediately, and know that the bill could run hundreds, even thousands of dollars at this stage.
As with most health issues, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you are unsure about brushing your pet’s teeth, ask your veterinarian or vet technician to show you how. Many clinics offer discounts on dental cleaning in February too.
“While February is National Pet Dental Month, dental health care should be a priority for pet owners all year long,” Woodington advised. MSN