Many health problems start in the mouth. Plaque, tartar, periodontal disease, and infected teeth serve as a source of inflammation and infection for the rest of the body. There are many ways that dog and cat owners can help their veterinarian provide a healthy mouth for their pet. Our dental services at Pet Connection Veterinary Clinic include teeth cleaning and polishing, tooth extractions and minor oral surgery.
Soft plaque on the teeth turns into hard tartar, and bacteria, food particles,and enzymes invade the gums, causing periodontal disease and a number of related health conditions in dogs and cats. Why do our pets have so many problems with their teeth?
In the wild, the texture of the natural diet helps clean the teeth as the wolf or wildcat gnaws on the hide and sinews of the prey that they devour. There aren’t a lot of loose particles of food to cling to the surface of the teeth.
There is no doubt that our modern pet foods are more nutritious than the diets of these wild animals, but formulated foods do seem to encourage plaque and tartar accumulation.
In the past decade, dog and cat foods have been developed with the purpose of helping to remove plaque before it causes more serious dental problems. In order to do this, pet food researchers looked at a number of factors, including the size of the food pieces, the texture, the fiber content,and the manner in which the food breaks apart when chewed. Using these findings, they have been able to design foods that actually remove plaque and tartar as the dog or cat eats. We see definite improvement in the oral health of pets that are fed dental diets, even if it isn’t their only food.
Some pet owners feed a regular maintenance food in the morning, and give a dish of the dental diet as the evening feeding. Others use individual pieces of the dental diet as treats (it tastes great!). For pets with a serious tendency toward tartar problems, the dental diet can be fed as the only food, since it is a complete and balanced diet.
BRUSHING YOUR PET’S TEETH
When we mention brushing a pet’s teeth, we often get looks that vary from the amused to the incredulous. Just the idea of sticking a toothbrush in Kujo’s mouth and scrubbing away seems impossible. And after all, he’s only a dog! Well, dogs and cats develop dental problems even more often than humans.Modern diets can take some of the blame, but the many different shapes
and breeds of dogs and cats that have been created is another factor. One look in the mouth of a Bulldog or a Persian cat makes the simple act of chewing seem like a miracle. Dental disease is the single most widespread health problem in pets, and we know that good oral hygiene will add an average of 3 years of healthy life. Time to get out the toothbrush!When we say “brush the teeth”, we don’t really mean the same bedtime routine that humans practice. Despite the mouthwashes, whiteners, and fluoride that they advertise, human toothpaste is primarily a scrubbing
compound to physically remove food particles from the crevices between the teeth. And that takes a lot of work. Not so in pets. The toothpastes that are designed for dogs and cats contain enzymes that are designed to stay in contact with the teeth after application, dissolving away plaque and loose tartar before it turns hard and invades the gums. Brushing the teeth is not
as important as simply applying the paste to the teeth.We don’t worry about putting the toothpaste on the inside surface of the teeth, as the motion of the tongue does a pretty good job of removing stray food particles. Most important are the outside surfaces of the upper teeth,especially towards the back of the mouth. The main salivary duct enters right next to the largest chewing teeth, and minerals in the saliva are responsible for turning plaque into hard tartar. These large teeth in the side and back of the mouth are exactly where we find the most tartar,
periodontal disease, and abscess teeth.
How do I get the enzymatic toothpaste onto the teeth?
For large dogs, toothpaste can be applied with a regular toothbrush, but the typical brush is too big for most small dogs and cats. Small “finger brushes” are available that slip over the owner’s fingertip and allow easy application of toothpaste to the mouth. Some people use a gauze sponge wrapped over the finger in a similar fashion. And perhaps the easiest way is to simply
apply a dab of enzymatic toothpaste to your finger tip and slide it into the mouth, feeling your way along between the teeth and the cheek. Be careful,however: Those teeth are sharp!
How often should I brush?
For best results (with a cooperative canine), brush the teeth every day or two. We know that the enzymes in the pet toothpaste continue to be released for up to 48 hours. Even brushing once a week is definitely worth it, and cleaner teeth are obvious when we do our yearly examinations on pets whose owners make oral care a weekly ritual.
What should I use?
It is important NOT to use human toothpaste. It tastes and smells far too strong for pets to tolerate, and has no residual effects. Pet toothpastes should be used that contain enzymes. CET toothpaste is the most common veterinary brand of an enzymatic pet dentifrice. Another way of applying toothpaste is thru the use of small rawhide chews coated with the toothpaste. As the dog chews the treat, he is brushing his own teeth.