The mouth is said to be the most biologically active area of the body. Bacteria from a disease in mouth can affect various organs of the body and the nervous system. Pet parents need to take care of the oral hygiene of their dog right from young age. Studies show that most pets over the age of two years show signs of oral disease to some degree. Although oral disease is very common, the good news is that if it is treated early enough – with home brushing and professional prophylactic cleaning – you can reverse many of its effects.
Whiff of a problem
Since pets are not noted for their cooperation when it comes to mouth inspections, pet parents can easily miss the early stages of oral disease. There are, however, several signs that, although not exclusive to oral disease, should alert you to the need for a thorough and detailed veterinary examination of your pet’s mouth. Bad breath is certainly one ‘red flag’. Other indications are when your pet rejects hard, crunchy food; avoids certain parts of his mouth when eating, paws at its mouth, or begins to drool.
Periodontal disease involves the tissue and structures that support the teeth – the gum (gingiva) and the bone (alveolar bone). The disease ranges in severity from inflammation of the gum (gingivitis) to ulceration of the gum and resulting loss of supporting bone structure (periodontitis). Advanced periodontitis leads to the loosening and eventual loss of teeth.
Gingivitis: Gingivitis, the early stage of periodontal disease, is relatively easy to spot. It appears as a red line of inflammation where the gum meets the tooth. This inflammation of the gingival (gum) tissue is caused by deposits of plaque that build up on the surface of the tooth beneath the gum tissue. Plaque, a combination of bacteria, food particles and saliva, is constantly formed and hardened on the surface of the tooth. The high concentration of bacteria (80 percent) in plaque makes it an effective pathological (disease-causing) agent.
As plaque deposits build up, it hardens into calculus (tartar) and enlarges the pocket (sulcus) between the tooth and the gum. This enlarged sulcus traps debris and creates a fertile environment for bacterial growth. Saliva, which normally washes out the sulcus, can no longer do its job effectively and clear out the sulcus. Multiplying bacteria invade the gingival tissue. The gums become swollen and are liable to bleed when probed. Fortunately, at this early stage, the teeth have not lost their supporting bone structure. So if gingivitis is detected early and treated promptly, its effects are reversible.
Periodontitis: Periodontitis, the advanced stage of periodontal disease, occurs when bacteria, their waste products and other toxins cause the gums to ulcerate. Over time and increasing buildup of calculus causes ever-deepening pockets to form around the teeth. Eventually, the alveolar bone begins to erode. Finally, erosion of the gingival and alveolar bone advances to such a degree that the teeth no longer have anything to support them. They become loose and fall out. These lost teeth are almost always healthy teeth. Unfortunately, periodontitis is not reversible. But if treated early enough, it can be controlled.
Brushing: The best ‘medicine’
Plaque forms every 6 to 8 hours and merely rinsing your pet’s mouth will not remove the buildup. To effectively remove plaque, you need to brush your pet’s teeth – preferably every day. While brushing takes discipline, it doesn’t take a lot of time – no more than 15 to 30 seconds. Admittedly, most pets do not clamor to have their teeth brushed, but most will tolerate it if you set up a routine, stick to it, treat brushing like a game, and always remember to reward your pet afterwards. Here’s how to accustom your pet to brushing:
Week 1: Fun time: Don’t attempt to clean your pet’s teeth yet. In the first week, just accustom your pet to your daily inspection of his teeth. Establish a routine. Every day at the same time, lift your pet onto a table or counter. Firmly holding the pet’s head with one hand, pull back his lips and examine his teeth. Make sure you look at all the teeth – top and bottom. Rub your finger along the gums. During this inspection, reassure your pet. After the inspection, praise your pet, give him a favourite treat, or play with him for a few moments. It’s important to reward your pet at the end of each session so he associates daily dental care with a pleasurable experience. Hint: Resort to bribery!
Week 2: Practice makes perfect: Introduce your pet to the toothbrush (or a cotton swab). Every day at the same time, rub the toothbrush (the human paediatric variety is fine) or swab along your pet’s gums just as you did with your finger during the first week. Let your pet rub his whiskers along the toothbrush bristles. At the end of each session, reward him with his favourite treat or toy. Hint: Don’t rush. Let your pet think it’s his idea.
Week 3: The real thing: Introduce toothpaste. Use a reputable brand of canine– not human toothpaste as it contains agents that are harmful to pets if they ingest them. Detergent, for instance, a foaming agent in human toothpaste, is an irritant that can cause gastric problems in cats.
Contrary to popular belief, salt and baking soda are not effective plaque removers. What’s more, these compounds contain sodium – which is potentially dangerous to older pets with heart disease. Once you have established a tooth-brushing routine, do the same thing at same time every day. Hint: Reward yourself as well as your pet!
Work together with your vet…
Your pet’s doctor is also your pet’s dentist. To catch problems early, it is essential that the pet parents and veterinarians work as a team. An observant pet parent may notice subtle changes in a pet’s mouth or behaviour that he can bring to the veterinarian’s attention during a routine checkup. Alerted to potential trouble spots, the vet can then schedule time for a detailed oral examination.
The dental visit: Given that pets are usually ready with ‘tooth and claw’, it is advisable to give your pet a general anaesthetic to carry out a thorough and detailed examination. If any disease is evident, the vets can advice on oral hygiene and management to scheduling and appointment for a dental scaling using an ultrasound dental scaler or dental polishing.
Good luck for shiny white and healthy teeth!
(The author belongs to The Ark24hr Veterinary Clinic in Chennai.)
Dental conditions like periodontal diseases are the number one health problem in dogs and cats over three years old, affecting about 70 percent of cats and 80 percent of dogs. Oral hygiene is the only effective protection against tartar, gingivitis and periodontal disease.
A golden rule – brush teeth every day. Giving the pets dental stick regularly helps ensure dental hygiene. Mechanical and enzymatic action of dental sticks helps to clean the teeth efficiently and prevent accumulation of plaque and tartar.
In our practice, we undertake ultrasonic dental scaling and polishing. During this procedure, teeth are cleaned and polished above and below the gum line while the pet is anaesthetised under light sedation; after all dogs cannot be expected to open wide and hold still for the course of a procedure that might produce discomfort.
Remember, the longer a dental disease is left unattended the more difficult and expensive it will be to treat.
–Dr Satbir Singh Josan,
Oral hygiene is as important to dog’s overall health as feeding, regular health check-up, grooming and exercise. Unfortunately, many people seem to just expect dogs to have bad breath, and few people brush their dogs’ teeth frequently enough. Catching teeth problems early will help avoid severe dental problems such as halitosis, tartar, gingivitis, periodontal disease, oral pain, epulis (gum tumours) and tooth loss.
Bad breath is often a first indicator of dental disease. Regular brushing of teeth with the use of special enzymatic toothpaste made especially for dogs will help in reducing many dental problems. If the pet parents are not able to brush their dog’s teeth, there are other options such as oral rinses made especially for dogs. They can also use special dental treats.
Every dog brought to my clinic undergoes dental examination. Need for dental treatment is established during this. We do have literature and posters stressing the need for dental examination displayed prominently in the clinic. We advise regarding specialised dental chews, pastes, brushes, toys, etc that help in cleaning the teeth. We also recommend the pet parents to feed their pets dry food instead of wet which helps in reducing many oral problems. We also advise them to go for regular brushing of teeth and feeding of dental treats and chewsticks.
–Dr Gorhe, The Pet Cover Clinic, Pune Oral hygiene is as important in pets as it is in humans, difference is the pattern of taking care. We have a dedicated ultrasonic scaler which we use to remove the hard plaque stuck to the pet’s teeth. Manual scalers can also be used, only problem is that we need to anaesthesia the pet. Hence, cleaning it once in 9-12 months is an ideal option. Regular cleaning can prevent bad breath, gingivitis, tooth decay, caries, renal diseases, oral ulcers, etc. They should be encouraged to use raw hide bones which keep the teeth clean. Avoid giving them table scraps and spicy foods which will help the plaque to grow. Any bleeding from the teeth or gums should be attended immediately by the vet.
–Dr Hitesh Swali,
Dr Hitesh Swali’s Pet Clinic, Mumbai
Oral hygiene is very important because teeth play a very important role in prehension and mastication. Bad teeth can be a cause of bad odour and bad breath. As the pet ages, dental caries is a common problem. Bleeding gums and loose teeth are a cause of concern in older pets. A pet with painful teeth will not eat well, leading to gradual weight loss. Besides, the oral cavity with bad teeth is a bacteria’s delight. The bacteria will increase in number and cause stomatitis and ulcers.
One of the most common problems a pet will have is tartar formation on the crown of the teeth. I recommend getting a regular scaling done once in a year, once the pet completes 3-4 years of age. As the pet gets older, a pet parent needs to get dental x-rays to look at the roots of the pet’s teeth. We can do dental fillings also in case of cavities.
Dogs can be given a variety of chews which will reduce tartar build up. The long bones which don’t splinter easily can also be used. Raw hide chews also serve the same purpose. Nowadays a few pet food companies are making pet food that contains an ingredient which reduces tartar build up. Pet parents can use all of the above instructions to improve the oral hygiene of their pets.
My clinic also has handheld instruments like tooth extractors, elevators, luxators, forceps, mouth mirror to clean teeth. Other clinics have dental x-ray machines, dental polishing machines. We have gas anaesthesia machine for painless dental procedures.
–Dr Ramani Jairam (M V Sc), Chief Veterinarian, Pluto Pet Clinic, Mumbai
Prevention is always better than cure! It is advisable to every pet parent that they should take care of the teeth of dogs in the same way we do for ours. Gingivitis, tartar and periodontal diseases are common among the pet animals which can be turned out to be critical if not treated or prevented in time. In spite of loosing teeth, such tooth problems can lead to complications spreading to other sensible body organs of the pet, such as the heart, lungs and kidneys.
For older dogs, vet visit for tooth check-ups in every 3-6 months is very essential. Simple prevention measures like brushing, dental sticks and other chewing items can prevent tooth problems of our canine friends. Dental hygiene is very much co-related with what your doggy eats. Feed him quality or branded foods and clean the teeth regularly to protect from bacterial infections in the mouth. We conduct ‘Dental Month’ programme to motivate our customers aware about the importance of dental care.
Apart from common tooth problems and diseases, we should aware about the non-alignment, crown defects (by birth) and other possible complications in the teeth of our pets. We have a complete facility to take care of any tooth problems using advanced technologies of polishing, extraction, general anaesthesia, etc.”
–Dr Umesh D Karkare, Happy Tails, Khar (W), Mumbai is General Secretary of Federation of Small Animal Practitioners Association (FSAPA) India.