February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and prioritizing your pet’s dental hygiene is paramount for keeping them happy and healthy. Since periodontal disease can cause significant health issues for your pet, our team at Town and Country Animal Hospital wants to explain five reasons why your pet’s dental care is so important.
#1: Protect your pet from periodontal disease
Eighty percent of pets have periodontal disease to some extent by the time they reach 3 years of age. The disease progresses in four stages:
- Gingivitis — Stage one occurs when a film that harbors bacteria, a substance called plaque, accumulates on the teeth. If not regularly removed, plaque can migrate under the gumline, causing the immune system to respond, and resulting in inflammation and pain. Plaque absorbs minerals from the pet’s saliva and eventually hardens into tartar, which allows bacteria to easily attach to the rough surface. These bacteria can damage your pet’s gums and the structures that support their teeth.
- Mild periodontitis — Stage two occurs if gingivitis is not controlled, and the tissues that attach the tooth to the underlying gums and bone are weakened. Mild periodontitis is diagnosed when 25% or less of these supporting structures are lost.
- Moderate periodontitis — Stage three occurs when 25% to 50% of the tooth’s supporting structures are lost. The pet’s teeth may start to become loose at this stage.
- Severe periodontitis — Stage four occurs when greater than 50% of the tooth’s supporting structures are lost. The pet may have loose or missing teeth, and a tooth that reaches stage four cannot be salvaged, and must be extracted.
#2: Protect your pet from pain
Periodontal disease can be painful for your pet, and many pets, especially cats, are masters at hiding pain and discomfort. By having your pet’s teeth regularly evaluated by a veterinary professional, you will ensure they don’t experience any unnecessary pain caused by dental disease.
#3: Prevent your pet from having bad breath
Poor dental hygiene results in halitosis, and if your pet’s breath is less than pleasant, they need a professional dental cleaning. The odor is caused by the bacteria that accumulate in your pet’s mouth, and regularly removing these pathogens will keep your pet’s mouth smelling sweet.
#4: Prevent your pet from experiencing worsening dental disease
As periodontal disease progresses, the condition can lead to many problematic conditions for your pet, including:
- Tooth loss — As the structures supporting the teeth are compromised, your pet can lose teeth, which can make eating difficult.
- Tooth abscesses — The accumulated bacteria can result in a tooth root abscess. If not treated promptly, the abscess can rupture, causing an open wound in your pet’s face.
- Oronasal fistulas — The bacteria can cause tissue damage, resulting in an opening between your pet’s mouth and nasal passages. Dachshunds are especially at risk for this condition.
- Jaw fractures — When left untreated, periodontal disease can damage the bones supporting your pet’s teeth, resulting in a jaw fracture. Cats and toy-breed dogs are at higher risk, since their tooth roots are closer to the edges of their jawbones.
- Eye issues — The back molars sit underneath the eyes, and tooth root infections involving these teeth can cause eye problems.
#5: Protect your pet from organ damage
The bacteria that accumulates in your pet’s mouth can enter their bloodstream and cause damage to body organs, including the kidneys, liver, and heart. The presence of bacteria in the bloodstream can also make regulating blood sugar more difficult in diabetic pets, which can lead to serious consequences.
Ensuring your pet receives regular professional veterinary cleanings is the best way to prevent periodontal disease’s damaging effects. This procedure involves putting your pet under general anesthesia, to ensure all bacteria are removed from under your pet’s gum line. X-rays are also necessary to thoroughly evaluate all aspects of your pet’s oral health. Other ways you can protect your pet from periodontal disease include:
- Brushing your pet’s teeth — Brushing your pet’s teeth daily at home greatly improves their oral health, and the process can be a good bonding experience for you and your pet. Ensure you use pet-friendly toothpaste, because human toothpaste is harmful to pets. In addition, choose a pet-friendly toothbrush or one with soft bristles, and ensure the brush is small enough to easily fit in your pet’s mouth. If your pet has never had their teeth brushed, you will need to gradually work up to the procedure. You can find tutorials to help teach your pet.
- Giving your pet dental treats and chews — Chewing’s mechanical action can help remove plaque and tartar. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) is an organization that evaluates pet products to ensure they meet standards for reducing plaque and tartar. Approved treats and chews must reduce plaque and tartar by at least 10% to achieve VOHC approval.
- Feeding your pet a dental diet — These diets have specially designed kibble with an abrasive texture that helps scrape away plaque and tartar. Some also have a coating that helps break down plaque.
Keeping your pet’s mouth clean and healthy is an essential part of being a responsible pet owner. Book your pet’s dental appointment early, and don’t forget to ask about the promotions our Town and Country Animal Hospital team is offering for Pet Dental Health Month.