We would no more forget to brush our teeth than forget to get dressed, so why do we not take the same care of our pets’ teeth? The answer is simple: we’re busy, and time is short. With this in mind, here are some constructive suggestions about improving your pet’s dental health and an explanation of what happens when veterinary treatment is necessary.
• Sore gums mean pain and eventual gum recession
• Gum recession means wobbly teeth
• Wobbly teeth fall out
And the consequences of inflamed gums (gingivitis) can be severe:
• Inflamed gums become colonized by bacteria
• The bacteria enter the blood stream
• Bacteria travel to organs such as the liver, lungs, kidney, or heart and can cause life-threatening infections
Clearly the message is don’t give dental care the brush off! So what can you do to help at home?
Six Easy Steps to Better Home Dental Care
Public enemy number one is plaque. This sticky, glue-like residue coats teeth and harbors bacteria. Unless it is removed, eventually it combines with minerals and bacteria to harden into tartar. This is where diet comes in. Moist foods collect between teeth and are perfect for plaque formation. However, dry diets have a mild abrasive action as the pet chews, which helps keep the teeth clean. Even more effective are special dental diets that contain fibers arranged so that chewing on them creates a ‘brushing’ action.
2: Dental Chews
Dental chews work in a similar way to food. You give the pet one dental chew a day to help keep his chewing teeth (the molars) clean. Look for chews approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Society (VOHC) as these are verified as proven to reduce plaque.
Work with a pet’s toothbrush, a soft child’s toothbrush, or a finger-brush and pay special attention to brushing the pet’s canine teeth since these do not benefit from dental chews. Never use human toothpaste (which is not meant to be swallowed), but choose a pet toothpaste that is safe to use in cats and dogs.
Using a doggy mouthwash is easier than it sounds! Look for a pet mouthwash containing chlorhexidine and zinc gluconate. Squirt the mouthwash into the dog’s mouth once a day, and it will decrease the numbers of bacteria in his mouth for 12 hours at a time.
5: Oral Gels
If you can only commit to his mouth once a week, then use a dental gel supplied by your vet. Use a finger to rub this clever compound over his teeth, and it seals the surface against bacterial attachment for seven days.
6: Dental Toys
Looking after you pet’s teeth can be fun with a dental toy. There are plenty on the market, designed in such a way that when the pet bites down, the rubber has a cleaning effect on the teeth.
When More Thorough Cleaning Is Needed.
In the same way, we need regular dental check-ups, so does your dog. But if the vet then advises booking your pet in to have his teeth cleaned under anesthetic, what happens exactly?
Proper Prior Planning
After the pet is admitted, your veterinarian examines him, paying special attention to his heart and lungs. Heart murmurs do not mean he cannot have an anesthetic, but the drug protocol may need adjustment. Another safety precaution is to run pre-anesthetic blood tests. These allow the anesthetist to adjust the amount of drugs and check there are no problems with organ function that would make the anesthetic unsafe.
Some veterinarians advise putting the patient on a drip (intravenous fluids) before, during, and after the anesthetic. Drips are an excellent option that keep the blood pressure up across your pet’s kidneys and prevents disease at an undetectable level from taking a turn for the worse.
Next comes the ‘pre-med’ injection. This is a carefully thought-through cocktail of drugs that relax the patient, reduce the amount of anesthetic required, and often contains a pain killer (essential if extractions are likely). Once given, this takes anywhere from a couple of minutes (if given intravenously) to 20 minutes to take effect, after which the anesthetic is administered.
Your pet is given an injection into the vein that makes him sleepy enough to place a breathing tube in his windpipe. Anesthetic gas breathed through this tube, keeps her asleep.
Now we’re ready for the dental attention itself, which happens in seven steps.
1: The gums are probed with a special instrument to detect any pockets between the gum and teeth, which indicate a problem. The tooth enamel is also checked, looking for areas of damage or decay that need attention.
2: The teeth are x-rayed, paying special attention to areas with deep gingival pockets. Radiographs identify tooth root infections and damage below the gum line, which are important to know about when making decisions about the treatment needed.
3: The teeth are charted, to record which teeth are present or need to be extracted. This record is kept as part of the clinical notes and used for future reference.
4: The veterinarian uses an ultrasonic descaler to remove tartar and plaque from the teeth. This takes considerable time and patience, gently working into all the nooks and crannies to clean away accumulated tartar and reveal the healthy enamel beneath.
5: Any teeth that are irreparably damaged or wobbly are extracted.
6: The teeth are polished with a paste that gently creates a smooth surface. This makes it difficult for bacteria to cling on.
7: A gel is applied which seals the tooth and repels bacteria for up to seven days, so as to give you a head start on that new dental regime.
Once the veterinarian is happy with the results, your pet is woken up. And you can expect the first of many fresh, breath licks from your furry friend! Do you have Pet Insurance or are considering getting your pet coverage? Then check back next week to find out what Dental Coverage Pet Insurance provides.