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The Facts About Dental Disease

If you were asked to name the most common disease of adult dogs and cats, what would your answer be?  Would it be heart disease?  Maybe liver or kidney disease?  Well, if you said dental disease, you would be correct.  Studies indicate 85% of adult pets have some degree of periodontal disease.  This disease begins with the formation of plaque, which is a transparent adhesive fluid composed of saliva, food particles, and bacteria.  Did you know that plaque can form in only 2-5 days after a dental cleaning? We’ve all experienced waking up to that not so pleasant feeling in our mouths after 12 hours of not brushing… can you imagine your dog’s after eight years!

Tarter, which forms due to the plaque, inflames the gums and allows bacterial organisms to grow and cause further inflammation.  This causes swelling of the gum tissue and traps more bacteria below the gum line causing detachment of the gums and eventually leads to the destruction of the bone. Even though this destruction of tissue and bone may take 2 – 5 years, your pet can be in significant pain without you knowing it. Infection can also be absorbed directly into the bloodstream and travel to the liver, kidneys, lungs, spine and commonly the heart.

The most common sign of an oral disease is bad breath. Subtle symptoms could be your pet’s preference to softer food or less interest in his favourite chew toy. Your pet may start chewing on one side of his mouth or chew less, which in turn can cause vomiting. Other signs of dental disease include increased salivation, pawing at his face, bleeding from the mouth, oral growths and/or sudden change in behaviour. You may also be surprised to learn that things such as chronic eye infections or drainage, sneezing and nasal discharge, can all be related to dental disease. As dental disease progresses, the treatment becomes more involved and more costly. This means that sooner is better than later when it comes to addressing your pet’s oral health.

So what proactive steps can be taken towards your pet’s fight against dental disease?

Firstly, you should examine your pet’s teeth monthly and look for accumulation of yellow or brown material where the tooth meets the gum line. Once you notice plaque or tartar accumulation, it is time for a professional cleaning. Remember, dental disease occurs below the gum line. By only removing calculus from the exposed tooth, although esthetically pleasing, you are not removing the disease caused by plaque and calculus that is forming under the gums. Larger dogs need a dental exam once a year and smaller dogs, twice a year. The intervals between teeth cleaning procedures will depend on your pet and how often you can brush your pet’s teeth.

One of the most common questions veterinarians are asked regarding dental cleanings is: “Why does my pet need general anaesthesia?”

Anaesthesia provides three important functions: immobilization to perform a thorough exam and cleaning below the gum line, pain control and the ability to place a tube into the windpipe so bacteria cannot enter the respiratory system. Dental radiographs may be recommended for complete evaluation of dental disease and are impossible to perform without anaesthesia. Besides, could you imagine trying to tell your cat to just “say aww” for 30 – 60 minutes, especially when extractions are necessary!

Before a dental procedure, your veterinarian should perform a complete physical examination, which may include basic blood tests. Blood tests are run to evaluate the liver and kidney function, as well as red and white blood cell counts. An increase in white blood cells could be an indication of an infection. The risks of a dental procedure are usually minimal. Anaesthesia is never completely without risk, but appropriate evaluation of your pet prior to the procedure and close anaesthetic monitoring can greatly reduce these risks.

Remember, the best medicine is prevention. There are special diets manufactured to help control plaque and feeding these diets in conjunction with daily brushing is the best way to keep your pets teeth clean and their breath a little easier to bare during those early morning “wake up and feed me!” kisses.

Written by Van Isle Veterinary Hospital

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