Your Pet’s Teeth and Oral Health
By Rachele Baker, DVM –
What is Dental Disease and What Are the Signs of Dental Disease in Our Pets?
Dental disease is very common in pets and, in fact, more than 85% of dogs and cats older than four years of age have some level of dental disease. Dental disease in dogs and cats is the same as it is in people. The difference is that dogs and cats cannot take care of their own teeth. Can you imagine what your teeth would look like if you never brushed your teeth! Dogs’ and cats’ teeth require daily home care just like our own teeth. We, as pet owners, must take an active role in keeping our pets’ mouths healthy. Keeping our pets’ mouths healthy has beneficial effects on our pets’ overall health as well as on our pets’ oral health.
The photo on the left below shows clean, healthy dog teeth while the photo on the right below shows dog teeth with heavy tartar accumulation and dental disease. You should lift up your pet’s lip all the way back to the molars to inspect his or her teeth on a regular basis so that you will know if your pet’s mouth is healthy or if your pet has dental disease requiring attention.
Signs of dental disease in pets include bad breath, brown discoloration of the teeth (healthy teeth are white), excessive drooling, difficulty eating dry kibble or hard foods, pawing or rubbing the mouth area, and inflamed, reddened gums. “Dog breath” is not normal for dogs just like bad breath is not normal for humans. The two most common causes of bad breath in both humans and animals are infection in the mouth and stomach problems.
Dental disease begins with the formation of plaque on the teeth. Plaque is formed from food particles and bacteria left in the mouth after eating. Plaque is soft and can be removed by brushing or wiping the teeth. If plaque is not removed, minerals in saliva combine with plaque to form tartar. Plaque starts to mineralize a few days after it forms. Tartar on the teeth is irritating to the gums and leads to inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) as well as bad breath. Tartar is very hard and is firmly attached to the teeth and cannot be removed by brushing. It can only be safely and effectively removed using an ultrasonic scaler and special instruments during a professional dental cleaning under general anesthesia.
If tartar is not removed from the teeth, it builds up under the gums and separates the gums from the teeth resulting in the formation of pockets. Tartar also promotes bacterial growth on the teeth and in the tissues surrounding the teeth. Disease of the tissues surrounding the teeth is called periodontal disease. Periodontal disease begins with gingivitis (inflamed gums) and progresses to periodontitis (a serious infection that can damage the soft tissue and destroy the bone supporting the teeth) if left untreated. In addition, bacteria in the diseased tissues surrounding the teeth can enter the bloodstream and cause infection of the heart, liver, or kidneys.
Periodontal disease can be very painful and can lead to loose teeth, abscesses, and bone loss. Studies have shown that dogs experience pain like we do but that they instinctively hide their pain. We may not recognize that our pets are in pain from dental disease because the signs are so subtle. It may just appear that our pets are “slowing down” due to age when, in fact, they are not feeling well due to the pain in their mouths from dental disease.
The recommendation of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) is to have your veterinarian perform a professional dental cleaning and mouth x-rays under general anesthesia once a year beginning at one year of age for cats and small to medium sized dogs and at two years of age for large breed dogs. AAHA’s 2013 Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats state that “cleaning a companion animal’s teeth without general anesthesia is considered unacceptable and below the standard of care. Techniques such as periodontal probing, intraoral radiology, and the removal of plaque and tartar above and below the gum line cannot be achieved without general anesthesia.”
A Comprehensive Dental Care Program for Your Pet
A comprehensive dental care program includes taking your pet for an annual physical examination (including an oral examination) with your veterinarian, regular professional veterinary dental cleaning under general anesthesia, and daily home dental care. The gold standard of home dental care for your pet is brushing your pet’s teeth once or twice a day using a soft bristled toothbrush and toothpaste made specifically for pets. Watch this great video entitled How To Brush Your Pet’s Teeth for a demonstration on how to teach a dog or cat to accept tooth brushing.
Whether or not you choose to brush your dog’s and cat’s teeth, there are products that you can use to help reduce plaque and tartar on your pet’s teeth. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) recognizes products that meet certain standards for plaque and tartar retardation in dogs and cats. The VOHC Council consists of nine board certified veterinary dentists. Products are awarded the VOHC Seal of Acceptance after review of data from studies conducted according to VOHC protocols. Regular use of products carrying the VOHC Seal will reduce the severity of periodontal disease in pets. Here are some products that have achieved the VOHC Seal of Acceptance:
HealthyMouth Dental Water Additive
HealthyMouth is the first and only dental water additive awarded the Veterinary Oral Health Council Seal of Acceptance for plaque control in dogs and cats. In two independent studies performed with rescued greyhounds at Hemopet under the supervision of Jean Dodds, DVM, HealthyMouth water additive for dogs reduced plaque by 71.9% and 76.7%. In two independent studies performed with rescued cats at The Kitten Rescue LA, HealthyMouth for cats reduced plaque by 85% and 88%. HealthyMouth has been proven safe over a three year period in more than 900 Hemopet greyhounds as well as in more than 4,000 dogs and 2,000 cats living in private homes.
HealthyMouth is made from natural ingredients and contains no calories, fat, sugar, or sodium. HealthyMouth is not flavored. It tastes like water with a slight grassy note. HealthyMouth is green due to the chlorophyll it contains. Small particles from the fruit actives may be noted in water containing HealthyMouth. This is normal and does not affect the integrity or safety of the product.
Click here to see a Product Comparison between HealthyMouth and other dental water additives on the market.
When added daily to pets’ drinking water, HealthyMouth safely cleans teeth and gums and reduces plaque and bacteria in the mouth. Plaque and bacterial reduction continues to improve the longer the product is used. Any remaining plaque on the teeth is significantly softened, making the use of tooth brushing, dental diets, and dental chews more effective.
HealthyMouth’s natural ingredients help prevent the accumulation of bacteria in the mouth which reduces plaque and keeps the mouth cleaner. HealthyMouth also coats the oral cavity to provide continuous protection against the accumulation of bacteria.
The ingredients in HealthyMouth include:
Organic Papain. Papain is an enzyme extracted from papaya that has antioxidizing and anti-inflammatory properties. Papain acts as a cleansing agent in the mouth.
Organic Yucca. Yucca acts as a natural cleansing agent in the mouth and boosts immune response.
Organic Cinnamon. Cinnamon has antioxidant properties and antibacterial actions which help stop the growth of bacteria in the mouth and act as a natural breath deodorizer.
Organic Pomegranate. Pomegranate has antibacterial properties which provide antiplaque benefits. Pomegranate also has anti-inflammatory properties.
Organic Blueberries. Blueberries contain high levels of antioxidants and Vitamin C to help protect the body against inflammation and also help boost the immune system.
Organic Cloves. Cloves, with their antibacterial, analgesic, and antiseptic properties aid in the treatment of sore gums and help boost the immune system.
Chlorophyll. With its cleansing, detoxifying, and deodorizing properties, chlorophyll helps prevent bacterial growth in the mouth.
Vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant which helps to maintain healthy teeth, gums, and bone and helps the body build collagen used to make healthy gum tissue.
Vitamin B2. Vitamin B2 is an important antioxidant and helps to maintain a healthy immune system.
Zinc gluconate. Zinc gluconate is an antibacterial agent.
HealthyMouth also comes in topical gel and spray formulas. HealthyMouth is only available to purchase through the HealthyMouth online store or through veterinary hospitals. Click here to find a veterinary hospital near you that carries HealthyMouth products. For more information about HealthyMouth, visit their website.
Greenies dental chews help clean dogs’ and cats’ teeth by using their natural chewing action to wipe away plaque and tartar buildup from the surface of teeth. The highly soluble ingredients in the new formulation of Greenies break down quickly for easy digestion. Greenies for dogs come in five unique sizes to offer the most appropriate texture and hardness for dogs with a variety of bite-force capabilities. It should be noted that Greenies are not grain-free and they do contain calories. Greenies are available in online and retail stores.
Virbac C.E.T. VeggieDent Tartar Control Chews for Dogs
VeggieDent tartar control chews for dogs are vegetable-based chews that work with a dog’s chewing action to freshen breath, reduce plaque, and decrease tartar formation. VeggieDent chews are highly palatable and have no animal-origin ingredients. VeggieDent chews are available in online and retail stores.
Milk-Bone Brushing Chews for Dogs
Milk-Bone Brushing Chews are proven to reduce tartar and plaque as well as fight bad breath. The unique dental twist with nubs and ridges is designed to clean like bristles on a toothbrush to help clean the teeth and gums. Milk-Bone Brushing Chews are available in online and retail stores.
For the complete list of products awarded the Veterinary Oral Health Council Seal of Acceptance, click here.
For the overall health and wellbeing of our pets, it is essential that we take care of our pet’s teeth and oral health on a daily basis and that we regularly have our pet’s teeth examined by a veterinarian and professionally cleaned under general anesthesia as needed.
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