Passion 4 Pooches, Articles by Laurie Buckley
February is National Pet Dental Month. In talking with my customers, there seems to be a lot of confusion about their pet’s dental care. Some folks have their pet’s teeth cleaned by the veterinarian every six months and brush their pet’s teeth regularly (and yes, this means cats too!). Others think that if they brush their pet’s teeth once or twice a year, they are providing proper care. Some look at me like I am insane when I suggest their dog’s teeth be brushed at all.
And I can understand that. Dental care for our pets is a relatively new idea. When I was growing up, we never heard of such a thing. We knew enough to give the dog hard, dry kibble to eat and some bones to chew on. But as it turns out, proper oral hygiene is as important for our pets, as it is for us. A lack of good hygiene also has the same results, gum disease.
According to the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), gum disease is an infection resulting from build-up of soft dental plaque on the surfaces of the teeth around the gums. The bacteria in dental plaque irritate the gum tissue if plaque is allowed to accumulate, which often leads to infection in the bone surrounding the teeth. Hard dental tartar consists of calcium salts from saliva deposited on plaque. Tartar starts to form within a few days on a tooth surface that is not kept clean, and provides a rough surface that enhances further plaque accumulation. Once it has begun to grow in thickness, tartar is difficult to remove without dental instruments.
The effects of gum disease on animals are also similar to humans. Bad breath is the most common effect noticed by pet owners. However, this is just a symptom of a larger problem. Irritated gums can lead to bleeding and oral pain. You may notice that your pet has lost its appetite and drops food from its mouth when eating. In some cases, the pet may rub his mouth against the rug or furniture after eating. The roots may become so severely affected that some teeth become loose and fall out. At its worse, gum disease can have a significant impact on your pet’s entire system. Bacteria surrounding the roots can gain access to the blood stream. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, periodontal infections have been linked to diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease and other life threatening disorders.
The key to management of gum disease is prevention. As long as the surfaces of the teeth are cleaned frequently, the gums will stay healthy. Excellent oral health is maintained by daily oral hygiene. Yes, this means brushing your pet’s teeth on a daily basis. The VOHC also recommends that your pet’s mouth and gums be regularly examined by your vet to determine if there is a need for the teeth to be scaled. Scaling is performed by a veterinarian and usually requires the pet to be sedated. As always your vet is the expert in this area and can provide you with the best recommendations. As a professional groomer, I offer teeth brushing to my clients. As explained to them, this is equivalent to our own daily teeth brushing. It does not take the place of the scaling that your vet can offer, which is equivalent to our regular trips to the dentist for a teeth cleaning.
There are a few different ways to brush your pet’s teeth. I will share what has worked for me as a groomer and a pet owner. My vet explained to me that it was important for the tooth paste, or other appropriate dental product, to be rubbed onto the teeth and gums. As it turns out, a tooth brush is not always the easiest method for doing this. In my experience, it is often easier to get my finger into a dog’s mouth, than a tooth brush. And they seem less likely to want to chew on my finger than on a tooth brush. So I use a piece of gauze with dental solution and am able to massage the teeth and the gums. I can also examine the gauze afterwards to see if there is any residue, including blood from diseased gums. This can be reported to the pet owner, often letting them know it may be time for a trip to the vet. Another product I’ve had some success with is dental wipes for pets. These are similar to handiwipes that have tooth paste on them and can be purchased at a pet store. It is important to use dental products that are made for animals, not humans.
Teeth brushing, like many things with our pets, takes time and patience. You may not have great success the first few times. But hopefully, I’ve made an argument for continued attempts. We see hundreds of dogs a month and are universally successful in brushing teeth. It’s actually easier to brush big dog teeth than little dog teeth. Smushy face pups, like a Pug for instance, are probably the most challenging. Some others do have additional issues. Like my Shih Tzu, Trixie. With a mouth of teeth like that girl has, we may need to find a pet orthodontist!