News Item | PAWS Chicago

My Mouth Stinks Preventative Oral Healthcare for Dogs and Cats

by Cindy Charlier, DVM, Dip AVDC | May 01, 2013

 Periodontal disease affects more than 70% of dogs and cats over three years of age and can even affect younger patients. Your pets cannot raise their paw and let you know that their mouth hurts. Instinct tells them to hide pain, so often pets with painful oral disease continue to eat and show no outward signs of discomfort. What are the signs of periodontal disease that you should look for? You may notice bad breath, red, inflamed or bleeding gums, reluctance to eat hard food, or drooling. Dogs may stop playing with their favorite toys. Cats may be more aloof and may have an unkempt hair coat because they stop grooming due to oral pain. When you are with your pets every day it is sometimes difficult to notice subtle changes in their behavior which is why regular oral healthcare examinations with your veterinarian are so important. Remember that disease in your pet’s mouth may affect other organs in their body such as the heart, liver and kidneys. Preventive oral health care is integral to your pet’s overall health and well-being!     

What is Periodontal Disease?

Plaque is the sticky film that contains bacteria and covers the tooth surface. When you wake up in the morning and it feels as though you have ‘socks’ on your teeth – that’s plaque. It’s sticky but you can’t really see it. We remove our plaque with tooth brushing. Unfortunately, our pets rely on us to take care of their oral hygiene. Without daily brushing, plaque becomes calcified and appears as brown calculus or tartar on the tooth surface. Once formed, calculus cannot be brushed away. The bacteria in the calculus that forms under the gum causes periodontal disease. The first stage of periodontal disease is gingivitis which is inflammation of the gum tissue only. If your pet has gingivitis and has a dentistry procedure completed with your veterinarian under general anesthesia, then gingivitis may be reversed. Followed by diligent homecare, you can lengthen the time until your pet may require general anesthesia for a dentistry procedure in the future. If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontal disease which is an infection that causes loss of gum tissue and bone surrounding the tooth roots. Periodontal disease leads to exposed roots, gum recession, mobile and painful teeth. If you see signs of periodontal disease contact your veterinarian for an oral examination. 

Preventive dental home care is the least expensive and most rewarding form of dental care for your pet. The goal of the dental home care program is to decrease plaque (bacterial film) and prevent tartar formation on your pet’s teeth. Prevention of periodontal disease involves a multifaceted approach combining daily brushing with the use of diets, chews, treats and water additives. Home care can make a significant difference in your pet’s overall health and comfort. Remember, the more that you can do at home, the less will need to be done by your veterinarian. 

Brushing Your Pet’s Teeth 

Imagine not brushing your own teeth for six months or even a year! How about brushing your pet’s teeth? Daily brushing remains the single most effective way to decrease plaque and tartar. Daily brushing mechanically eliminates the plaque or sticky film that forms on your pet’s teeth thus preventing the development of tartar and inflammation of the gums. The key to brushing your pet’s teeth is to begin slowly and use positive reinforcement as your pet cooperates with you. If a tiger can be taught to jump through a hoop of fire you can teach your dog and cat to accept tooth brushing. 

Choose a consistent time during the day. Have small bits of food that your pet loves available for rewards. Small dogs and cats might be most comfortable in your lap, while larger dogs can sit on the floor. Use a calm, gentle tone of voice. Begin by just touching your pets lips and reward positive behavior. If they pull away or resist end the session and try again later. Do not reward resisting behavior. Introduce your finger into their mouth and run your finger along the outside surface of their teeth. Then introduce the toothbrush only and lastly add the toothpaste. Use a toothpaste for dogs and cats that is recommended by your veterinarian. You only need to brush the outside surfaces of your pet’s teeth as their tongue does a pretty good job taking care of the inside surfaces. Use a circular motion and pay special attention to the area of the gum margin. This process may take several weeks. Remember to make it fun! Be patient and positive! The end goal is for your pet to ask to have its teeth brushed every day! 

Veterinary Oral Health Council 

Unfortunately not all pets are amenable to tooth brushing. In addition to daily brushing, consider the use of other products to decrease plaque and calculus accumulation. The Veterinary Oral Health Council is the dog and cat version of the ADA. The VOHC is an organization that provides an objective means of recognizing commercially available products that meet pre-set standards of effectiveness in controlling the accumulation of plaque and calculus in dogs and cats. For a product to be accepted by the VOHC the product has to have scientific evidence that it does help with the control of plaque and/or tartar. The list of currently accepted products is available on the VOHC website (www. vohc.org). Using a combination of daily brushing, diets, treats, chews and water additives will help to slow the progression of periodontal disease. 

Appropriate Chew Toys 

Remember that there is no perfect chew toy for your pets. Dogs should never chew on anything harder than their teeth. The rule of thumb is if you cannot bend it or compress it your pet should not get it. 

COHAT (Comprehensive Oral Healthcare Assessment and Treatment) 

A dentistry procedure for your pet requires general anesthesia to complete a thorough oral examination, including probing around each tooth in 4 - 6 locations, charting the findings and taking intraoral radiographs. A dentistry procedure for your pet is very similar to a trip for you to the dentist. The only difference if that your dog and cat can’t open their mouth and say ahhh to allow a complete oral exam so general anesthesia is required. Depending on the severity of your pet’s periodontal disease, your veterinarian may recommend a recheck examination in three to twelve months. 

Remember that the key to oral health care is prevention of plaque! YOU can make a huge difference in the overall health and well-being of your pets!  

Thank you, Dr. Charlier! PAWS Chicago would like to thank Dr. Cindy Charlier for donating specialized dental surgeries by taking on our most complicated dental cases. As a board certified veterinary dentist, Dr. Charlier has also been integral in consulting with PAWS Chicago to routinely train our medical team.