For the pawfect million dollar smile

Canine dental care is often overlooked, but pets can suffer the same kinds of dental problems as humans, including severe pain, infection and tooth loss. You can help prevent these problems by learning about the basics of pet tooth care from your veterinarian. You should take advantage of recent advances in veterinary dentistry, including implants, braces, ultrasonic scaling, root canals, bonding and brightening. Many veterinarians also believe – although the evidence is not conclusive – that bacteria associated with tooth and gum disease can spread to internal body systems and contribute to infections in organs like the heart, liver and kidney. If so, a dental prevention programme could even help extend a pet’s life.

Dental check-up with the veterinarian

Dogs should have periodic check-ups. The frequency depends on their age: Puppies : You should have your pet’s mouth examined as early as possible and again at every vaccination appointment up to four months of age. Another dental examination should be performed at six months, including an assessment of your pet’s bite. Some do not lose all their baby teeth when they should, and their permanent teeth can be pushed out of line. If that happens, your vet may have to pull the stubborn baby teeth.

One to three years?: At this age, dental examinations should be done annually, unless you notice problems or your veterinarian has developed a custom examination programme.

Four to six years?: If your pet has perfect teeth and you brush them daily, annual examinations may suffice. However, many dogs in this age group require examinations every six months.

Seven years and up?: Dental examinations should be performed every six months. A dog suffering from dental problem may show following symptoms: change in eating habits, pawing of mouth, abnormal salivation, oral hypersensitivity, facial swelling, bleeding from mouth, sneezing, nasal discharge and abnormal behaviour.

How bad breath develops

Sour milk odour accompanying periodontal disease may result from bacterial population associated with plaque, calculus, unhealthy tissue, decomposed food particles retained within oral cavity. Normal lung air or stomach will never contribute to persistent bad breath. As plaque gets older and infected, it inflames the gingival (the junction between the teeth and the gum), further causing inflammation of the bone and bone loss takes place. Over a period of time, if attention is not given to the plaque, the aerobic gram positive bacteria changes to anaerobic gram negative bacteria. The rough surface of tartar attracts more bacteria, which irritates the gums, creating pockets at the gingival junction, which starts housing food debris, leading to tooth decay. Breeds like Pomeranian, Poodles, Lhasa Apso are prone to oral disease, thus proper dental hygiene needs to be maintained. Other diseases like diabetes, advanced renal failure, skin disorder like lip fold pyoderma can cause a foul smell to the breath.

How to brush your dog’s teeth

Ideally, brush your pet’s teeth daily, but brushing at least three times a week will go a long way in helping to prevent dental and related problems. Your pet may dislike the process and resist strenuously. If so, proceed slowly and with care.

  • Use a soft toothbrush. A child’s toothbrush for small dogs is ideal; an adult size should be used for larger dogs. Rubber finger caps with bristles are also available at most veterinarian offices and pet supply stores. Brushing with “Dentapaste” is ideal.
  • Start slowly by lifting up the lip and running your finger or a damp washcloth wrapped around your finger along the gums and teeth. Talk to and praise your pet to keep him calm while you are doing this.
  • Gradually increase the amount of time you work in the mouth daily. Concentrate on the outside surface of the teeth. Very little periodontal disease develops on the inside surface of the teeth since the tongue keeps this area clean.
  • Use toothpaste formulated especially for pets. “Dentapaste” has tree tea oil and other compounds best for this purpose, available at pet supply stores or your veterinarian’s office. Regular toothpaste is usually objectionable to them.
  • The best time to clean your pet’s teeth is after the evening meal. Your pet will become more cooperative over time if you establish a routine. For example: First feed your pet, next clean the teeth, and then play with him. Most dogs adapt to this routine surprisingly well.

How to avoid dental decay

Dog food, treats and chew bones?: Some pet foods have been developed to enhance oral care by having an abrasive action that is designed to scrape tartar from the teeth. There are also numerous treats and chew products available that may be helpful. High fibre contents of chews give massage to the gums and remove debris of food which reduces plaque formation. Mouth wash and sprays?: Veterinary hospitals and pet supply outlets sell chlorhexidine sprays and mouthwashes that contain enzymes that dissolve plaque and help reduce bacteria. They are not nearly as effective as brushing the teeth but are better than no home care.

How to remove tartar

Manual tartar removal?: If your pet has a placid temperament, it is not difficult to scrap the tartar from the teeth and clean under the margins of the gums. Many pet professionals perform excellent tooth cleaning , eliminating the need to have their pet anaesthetised at a veterinary clinic. Your veterinarian or a pet supply catalogue is a good source for a tartar-scraping tool. The best ones are double ended, one end suitable for the right and the other for the left side of the mouth. Ultrasonic cleaning?: The whine of the ultrasonic machine is distressing to most dogs, this procedure is performed with general anaesthetic or heavy tranquillisation. Older patients who have heart disease and need this procedure are given very light anaesthetic.

Removal of diseased teeth?: Once the ligaments that fasten teeth to the bone of the jaw have been damaged by periodontal disease, ultrasonic cleaning will not heal them. Mildly loose teeth can sometimes be preserved by cleaning and several weeks of doxycycline therapy either with oral tablets or oral patches. Severely loose teeth are best removed. So gear up and make your lil’ friends smile – SHINE!!

(Dr. Hatekar is a practicing veterinary surgeon in Pune. He has been trained in Germany and France for small animal orthopaedic surgery. He also writes for The Times of India, Indian Express and The Deccan Herald. He is member of World Small Animal Veterinary Association and can be contacted at: 020-25463352, Mobile : 09823288110, e-mail?: petaid1@yahoo.com)

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