doberman_teethbrushingCould your pet use a breath mint? If you answered yes, you’re most certainly not alone. In fact, the majority of adult dogs and cats suffer from some type of dental problem, the most common symptom of which is bad breath.

Contrary to popular belief, however, this isn’t something that pet owners simply must learn to live with. It’s something that serves as a reminder of how important dental care is for your four legged friend. Without the proper care, your pet could be suffering from loose teeth, painful gums and a host of other medical conditions that stem from dangerous bacteria and infections in the mouth, up to and including periodontal disease.

You can help your pet beat the odds by making a commitment to both professional and at-home dental care. Milford Veterinary Hospital offers all of the pet dentistry services necessary to keep your loved one smiling pretty for life. No breath mints needed!

What is dental disease?

Dental disease is a common medical condition that starts when bacteria, saliva and food particles accumulate between the teeth and gums. Plaque begins to form on the teeth, which soon combines with calcium salts to form tartar. Over time, tartar buildup can lead to further accumulation of food and bacteria, tooth decay, bleeding infected gums, tooth loss and the spread of bacteria into the bloodstream. Once bacteria enter the bloodstream, it can travel to extremely important organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys where it can lead to significant damage over time.

The ideal time to intervene is when plaque is just starting to form. By brushing your pet’s teeth on a regular basis, the plaque layer becomes disturbed or wiped away and it has to start all over again before it can form tartar.

Dry pet food and dog bones can be beneficial but generally are not enough to ensure all of the teeth remain healthy. This is because many animals do not use all the teeth in the front of the mouth to chew on these items, allowing these teeth to become severely diseased. In addition, some pets will favor one side of their mouth over the other and although all the molars on the left look great, there may be severe disease affecting the right molars. Fractured teeth can also be a problem, especially for dogs that chew hard bones and cow hooves.

In general, periodontal disease is most common in small breed dogs where it is thought that because of tooth crowding in a very small mouth, tartar accumulation is more apt to occur. In addition, there is a genetic predisposition in some breeds to accumulate plaque and tartar. Lastly, small dogs often don’t like to chew on bones and toys as much as big dogs.

Professional Dental Cleaning

Because home dental care isn’t always enough to really keep plaque and tartar from building up on your pet’s teeth and under the gum line, we recommend an annual professional dental cleaning, also known as a dental prophy. A dental prophy consists of ultrasonic scaling, both above and below the gum line, to remove the buildup of plaque and tartar and polish the teeth to a clean, healthy shine. If diseased, fractured or painful teeth are discovered during an exam and cleaning, extraction may be recommended.

All dental procedures are performed under general anesthesia, similar to that used in human medicine. Pre-anesthetic blood work is necessary to evaluate liver and kidney function so the safest anesthesia protocol can be used according to the needs of your particular pet. Additionally, our experienced veterinary technicians will remain on hand at all times to monitor anesthesia personally, and with the aid of high tech monitoring equipment.

How can I tell if my pet has Dental Disease?

Pet owners can conduct a brief oral exam at home to determine whether any of the signs of dental disease are present. If your pet will allow, lift his or her lips (you don’t have to open the whole mouth) and check for any of the following:

  • Bad breath
  • Red, swollen gums
  • Yellow-brown crust of tartar around the gum line
  • Broken or missing teeth
  • Pain or bleeding when you touch the gums or mouth

Other signs of dental disease may include a change in eating or chewing habits, pawing at the face or mouth and general depression. Any of the above signs indicate the need for a professional dental exam. Your pet’s teeth will also be examined during routine wellness visits and recommendations for dental care will be made at that time.

Home Dental Care

In addition to professional dental care, it’s critically important that you take your role seriously as a member of your pet’s dental care team. As part of your everyday pet care routine, you should be committing to brushing your pet’s teeth at least three times per week, if not every day. If you are unsure of how to do this, one of our vets or technicians would be happy to provide a demonstration and offer guidance on proper techniques to use.

If, after numerous attempts, your pet simply will not tolerate home brushing, we recommend that you try some of the many pet dental care products available that have been awarded the VOHC Seal. The VOHC is the Veterinary Oral Health Council, a group of veterinary dentists who put their seal of approval on products that are proven to help maintain good oral health. The VOHC seal will give you confidence that you are purchasing a product that’s proven to work. For more information and a list of products, visit the VOHC website.

Dental gels and sprays are also available, which contain anti-plaque compounds and need only be applied rather then brushed on. You can read more about some of these at:

Virbac Animal Health – Dental Care Products

Entirely Pets – Dental Care Supplies

Home dental care for cats can be more challenging than for dogs, but it can be done. There are some excellent video demonstrations and training programs at the following website:

Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine – Feline Dental Care Videos

Dental Diets

Prescription dental diets are also available and are much more effective than the average over the counter dry food. These are high quality, balanced diets that can be fed as a main source of food for both cats and dogs. Dental diets tend to have a larger kibble size that forces the pet to have to chew the food more rather than swallowing it whole. It also tends to not crumble apart as easily so it takes more bites to get it to break down. The texture and shape of the kibble produce a gentle abrasive effect on the teeth during chewing, which provides a brushing effect to reduce the accumulation of dental plaque and calculus.

Milford Veterinary Hospital currently carries several brands of prescription dental diets. Please consult with us during your pet’s next visit to determine which one is best for your pet.

Advanced Dental Care

There are veterinary dental specialists that routinely perform more advanced dental procedures. In fact, they can perform most of the same procedures that are utilized in humans such as root canals, orthodontics, crowns, caps, and implants. These procedures can become quite cost prohibitive though. If you are interested in pursuing these more advanced techniques, please feel free to discuss this with the doctor during one of your pet’s visits and we can help facilitate a referral to a dental specialist.

At Milford Veterinary Hospital, we want to do whatever it takes to help ensure that your pet has many happy healthy years with you and your family. It starts with a solid foundation of quality dental care, both professional and at home. Please feel free to call us with any questions or concerns regarding your pet’s teeth or to schedule your companion’s next dental exam.