Pet Dental Care…Why Brush Cats’ and Dogs’ Teeth?

The most rapidly expanding service of veterinary medicine today is in the area of routine and advanced dentistry.  In years past the emphasis on dental hygiene usually included feeding hard foods or offering crunchy dental treats with the occasional dental prophylaxis performed by your local veterinarian.  Although brushing your dog’s or cat’s teeth was mentioned, it did not take on the urgency or necessity that it does today.  Why the change?

Veterinarians have long thought that there was a connection between inadequate oral hygiene and many diseases. However there is now increasing evidence that the longevity enjoyed by many pets is directly related to the quality of dental care provided the pet during the bulk of their lives.  When a mouth has teeth with abundant tartar or roots that have partially resorbed, and gums that display severe gingivitis we know that the bacterial population of the mouth increases dramatically.  This heavy bacterial load can circulate throughout the body and result in kidney disease, heart disease and even skin disease.  One can imagine that if a pet chooses to lick a sore on the skin with saliva teeming with bacteria, the result could easily become a lesion that is now infected. The most obvious sign of abundant oral bacteria noted by the owner is a strong odor to the mouth.  This halitosis may be obvious when the pet is merely present in the room,  or perhaps more when he or she is panting.  In milder cases it may be necessary to gently lift your pets lip and smell the breath.  A cursory dental exam can be accomplished by the owner in most cases merely by checking the pet’s breath, looking for evidence of redness of the gums as in gingivitis and observing to see if there is discoloration on the teeth or a build up of tartar. When your dog or cat has a yearly physical exam your veterinary should note all of these areas as well checking the tongue and the back of the throat.

In addition to routinely checking your pet’s mouth it is important to take additional steps in improving oral hygiene. Brushing your dog’s or cat’s teeth is the single most effective step you can take in promoting  oral health and the benefits that accompany it.  While children’s toothbrushes are easily used in most dog’s, specially designed brushes for cats are more effective in that species.  Brushing with a wet toothbrush concentrating on the teeth furthest back  for 15 or 20 seconds is all that is required.  There are specifically designed and flavored  pastes or gels which are specially formulated with enzymes that can be most helpful.  The saliva activated enzymes significantly reduce bacterial population in the mouth.  These as well as enzyme oral sprays help to compensate for the inability to brush your pet’s teeth. as throughly as we would often like.  Above all it is important to note that any steps in the direction of oral hygiene, regardless of how cooperative your pet is, is far superior to doing nothing.

In future posting we will look at the pet dental prophylactic procedure as well as discuss the occasional need for x-rays and extractions.