CANINE AND FELINE DENTAL CARE
The veterinary community has stepped up to the “plate” in the last 25 years with an increasing awareness of the importance of dental care in our pets. We always had awareness of the consequences of bad teeth, but the increase in information and awareness has had real benefits for dog and cat longevity.
Our pets have a tendency to develop plaque and tartar on their teeth. As this accumulation builds up, infection is trapped and the gingival tissue becomes inflamed and erodes, allowing the infection to affect the tooth roots. This resulting periodontal infection is in the bone and begins a cycle of bacteria “showering” into the blood stream…straight to the heart, specifically the mitral valve. As this heart valve becomes infected, the body’s response results in scar tissue and “knarling” of the valve edges. This results in an increase in blood pressure in the lung and congestion ( congestive heart failure). We frequently see the small dog come in with bad breath, nasty teeth and a cough.
The best approach to prevent this life shortening issue is prevention. Checking the dog and cat’s teeth and gums should be done routinely. The typical first signs are on the upper pre-molars and molars. The process of doing a “dental” includes anesthesia with intubation to prevent inhalation of the infection and tartar which is removed with the help of ultrasonic tools. We are performing more dental cleanings than ever with the goal of preventing life shortening heart disease.
While most procedures involve cleaning of the teeth, we often extract loose or root exposed teeth. This may involve oral surgery. The veterinary profession has Board Certified Dentists that can perform the same procedures as human dentists, with root canals and crowns and even orthodontics. The main issue for the dog and cat is to prevent the teeth from shortening the life span. It is interesting that the smaller dogs have significantly more dental issues than large breeds.
In cats, tartar can create similar disease problems as for dogs, but there is also an ulcerative, prolific mucous membrane event ( lymphocytic/plasmacytic stomatitis) that may be in part due to a reaction by the tissues to tartar. Extracting all the teeth in some cats has resolved the disease.
While the cost of performing a dental cleaning/procedure including recommended pre-operative bloodwork may be significant, the benefit in preventing heart disease makes it very “cost effective”. Prevention is the best plan. Early detection and cleaning is recommended.
There are many products on the market for dental health care. Dental chews, tooth brushes, oral sprays and even special diets to help “remove” tartar. Everything may help, however I usually comment that even daily oral care does not eliminate the veterinarian but it will decrease the intervals needed for healthy teeth.
There have been small dogs ( i.e Yorkshire terriers or Chihuahuas) that have needed dental cleaning as early as 2-3 years of age, and then routinely. Large dogs do not have the same predisposition for dental disease ( we should still check!) as my 110# dog lived to be 15+ years old and never had to have a “dental” . We usually examine the teeth/mouth when we perform annual exams, but it is beneficial for owners to periodically check for issues and consult with their veterinarian.