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What's that smell???

Have you ever leaned over to greet your pet only to be slammed back by his horrendous breath?? I think we have ALL been there.

Although we have gotten exponentially better in the last 40 years, canine (and feline) dental disease remains vastly overlooked AND undertreated in our pets. Let's start with the basics, in this blog, and see what we can do to improve our pets' dental health.

Dental disease in pets is caused by the same things that cause dental disease in humans: plaque, tartar, bacteria, and genetics.

Plaque is that soft, sticky film that builds up on your gums daily. Plaque is made up of saliva, left over food particles, and bacteria that lives in your mouth. Plaque can easily be brushed away, if addressed regularly (daily or twice daily, ideally). When not regularly removed, however, plaque hardens into tartar.

Tartar cannot be brushed away. It is strongly bonded to the enamel of the teeth and can only be removed by dental scaling. This requires, in pets, general anesthesia. If someone tells you that they can perform a dental on your pet without anesthesia, they are not a veterinary professional and do not know what they are doing.

Bacteria normally resides in the mouth. Bacteria feed off of sugary and starch filled foodstuffs and adhere to plaque on the teeth. By-products of bacterial metabolism are acids which lead to tooth decay and cavities.

Genetics come into play with tooth placement and spacing as well as the rapidity of plaque build up and tooth decay. Just like people, some dogs and cats just have "good genetics" and gorgeous teeth...and some dont!

Everyone knows that dental disease can lead to cavities, gingivtis, oral abscesses, and tooth loss...but some other important information that you may not know is the following:

Dental disease is the number one cause of heart disease in our small animal companions. Yes! You read that right! Dental disease directly correlates to heart disease. How? Bacteria from the mouth shower the bloodstream when we have inflammation of the gums (gingivitis). These bacteria travel along the vessels to the heart where they land on the heart valves and set up residence. The presence of bacteria on the heart valves causes them to thicken (valvular endocarditis) and therefore the valves cannot close properly. This, in turn, causes a backflow of blood inside the heart, and eventual heart chamber enlargement and possible heart failure.

So, what can we do to prevent dental disease in our pets?

1. Brushing the teeth. OK, laugh! But it is possible!! I recommend starting teeth brushing as puppies/kittens. I get a toddler, soft bristle toothbrush, and let the puppy/kitten "chew" the bristles as I slowly get them used to brushing. There are canine and feline toothpastes that you can use on the toothbrush. Toothbrushing daily is best, but once or twice weekly will do wonders for decreasing plaque and tartar buildup.

2. Routine dental prophylaxis (cleaning). Full dental cleanings are recommended starting at age 2 in dogs and cats. Now you may be thinking, "Two?? That's so young!" However, studies show that we start to see significant dental disease and pathology (typically under the gumline where it cannot be seen without something like dental radiographs) by age 2-3 in small animal companions. By starting dental prophylaxis at age 2, and performing cleanings regularly (typically once a year), we can significantly decrease, or even eliminate, dental disease and associated pathologic changes.

Think about this. One animal year corresponds to about 7 human years. Therefore a 2 year old dog is about the same developmental age as a 14 year old person. Now the preceeding information doesnt seem so outrageous, does it?

3. Mouth washes / Water additives. These products typically help breath smell fresher by helping to decrease the bacterial load and breakdown plaque. Make sure to ask your veterinarian about a specific product...there are a whole bunch out there and they are typically not FDA, or otherwise, regulated. We want to make sure you are using something that is safe and effective. That being said, these products help, but they are not a substitute for routine brushing or dental cleanings. We do offer an oral rinse product at Animal Wellness Center if you are looking for one. We personally use this product at each dental prophylaxis that we perform.

So what is a dental prophylaxis? This is a procedure, performed under general anesthesia, where we clean / scale and polish all the teeth. If there are problems with any tooth, the gums, or any part of the oral cavity, those problems are addressed during the procedure.

Many people dont understand why we have to do this under anesthesia. Well, the simplist answer is that I can't ask the animal to open wide and stay there, spit, close your mouth on the suction, etc. Think about going to the dentist. A dog or cat just wont take and perform directions like we do, while getting their teeth cleaned. Moreover, performing a full inspection of all of the teeth and the oral cavity, in addition to cleaning and polishing all aspects of each tooth, requires general anesthesia. Finally, and most important medically, we have to clean under the gumline on each tooth. This can be a little technically difficult but also a little uncomfortable for the patient. And, if any tooth requires drilling or removal, or if oral surgery is needed to repair defects, of course general anesthesia is required.

So there you have it folks. Small animal dental health in a nutshell. When your vet recommends a dental, we are doing so because it is in the best interest of your pet, from a medical perspective. We are always here to answer all of your questions and alleviate any concerns you may have. For the month of November 2020, we are running a dental special (a $50 savings) to assist more folks in performing this needed procedure for their companions.

Let us know what questions you may have. If you are ready to schedule your dental cleaning, give the clinic a call or message us (info below). Also, let me know if you have a specific topic you would like to cover in our blog.

Till next time

Dr Bays

405-896-2120 /

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