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Doc, Why Does My Pet Need A Dental Cleaning?

You may have been told at some point that your pet could benefit from a dental cleaning. Why? The teeth of dogs and cats are made up of the same materials that human teeth are made of. Additionally, unlike humans, most pets do not brush their teeth every day. Therefore, it is important to get your pet’s mouth and teeth examined and cleaned regularly by your veterinarian in addition to instituting a home dental plan to prevent the need for as many dental cleanings throughout your pet’s life.

Tartar is a substance which is made up of bacteria and sits on the tooth surface. After a few days, that tartar calcifies and becomes calculus. Calculus cannot be removed from the tooth except with special dental equipment, which is why pets require dentals at the vet’s office. If the tartar and calculus are allowed to sit on the tooth surface, this can lead to irritation and inflammation of the gums (gingivitis). Unless the tartar or calculus is removed from the tooth, this cycle of inflammation and accumulation of bacteria will continue. The treatment is to remove the tartar and calculus, clean beneath the gum line, and then follow up with at-home dental care. These things paired together can help your pet’s mouth remain healthy and prevent future disease. That being said, some breeds of dog and cat are more prone to dental disease because of their genetics. It is especially important for these breeds to have routine dental exams with dental cleaning (when necessary) paired with at-home dental care.

This can also help reduce the number of teeth a pet will lose throughout their lives due to periodontal disease. When we clean a dog or cat (or ferret’s) teeth, we do the exact same things your dentist does when you go in for your routine cleaning. We use special equipment to clean the teeth, get underneath the gum line, we take x-rays, we polish the teeth, and we apply fluoride. If any teeth need to come out, we do that at the time of the cleaning. That being said, there are certain people who require sedation to “take the edge off” at the dentist.

Your dog or cat cannot understand why we are invading their mouths with foreign equipment. They also are not very amenable to having foreign objects stuck into their mouths, making it very difficult to do a thorough oral exam and cleaning exam without anesthesia. The tube that goes in their windpipe to deliver the gas anesthesia also helps to keep fluid from going down their windpipe and into their lungs, which is very important since there is a lot of water used to clean the teeth. It is the highest standard of practice to put veterinary patients under anesthesia during dentals, which optimizes the treatment and leads to the most successful outcome.

For this reason, it may seem that dentals are very expensive, which is true. However, without this expense, ti would be very difficult to do a good job and give your pet the best outcome. Additionally, routine dental care can actually decrease the amount you spend on your pet’s mouth over his life, since it can decrease the need for tooth removal and treatment of infections. February is National Pet Dental Health Month, so if your vet has recommended a dental cleaning for your pet, you may be able to get dental care at a discount while still getting all the benefits of a thorough exam and cleaning under general anesthesia. Next time, we will talk about how to keep your pet’s mouth healthy at home. Please feel free to call and speak with a staff member about our specials and options for your pet’s dental care!…

You Want Me To What?

Helpful Definitions: Plaque: The film that accumulates on the teeth throughout the day, even with diligent brushing. Colorless, composed of bacteria. Tartar (also known as calculus): Hardening of the bacterial film (plaque) on the surface of the tooth. Must be removed with special tools during the time of a dental cleaning. Can be partially broken down by certain compounds found in dental diet/treats and toothpaste. Gingivitis: Inflammation of the gums as a result of plaque and tartar accumulation near or under the gum line (where the tooth meets the gum). So…Last time, we talked about getting your pet’s teeth cleaned by your vet under general anesthesia as a way to treat any infection or inflammation that might be present. At that time, we also talked about devising an at-home veterinary oral care plan to help prevent the recurrence of inflammation, and its ensuing progression to periodontal disease. So what might this plan look like? First and foremost, brushing your pet’s teeth with a pet-specific toothpaste is by far and away the most effective means of preventing accumulation of tartar by controlling plaque at the gum line and below the gum surface. Certain dog and cat toothpastes contain a special compound to help reduce the amount of tartar on the tooth, which can help control further formation of plaque. Human toothpaste is not recommended as these products upset the stomachs of dogs and cats, and they can be toxic. The same is true of human mouth wash and other human oral hygiene products. Ideally, brushing your pet’s teeth at a frequency recommended by your veterinarian based on their degree of tartar and gingivitis is the very best way to keep their mouths as healthy as possible. Routine oral exams are the most effective way to formulate an oral care plan that works for you and your pet. Although brushing your pet’s teeth is the best way to prevent dental disease, adding in other tools, such as dental chews and dental treats provide additional benefit. There are many products on the market that claim to offer exceptional dental advantages. Unfortunately, many of these products are not effective, and so your veterinarian can help direct you toward those products which are known to work. Certain tartar control diets can decrease tartar build-up. These are often hard treats, which seem very large for the size of your dog or cat’s mouth. Some of these products also contain a special compound to help break down tartar to a certain degree, just as the toothpastes do. The large kibble size is designed to increase the amount of time your pet spends chewing, so the treat itself can help scrape some of the tartar away. This increased chewing time also maximizes the amount of time the special compound is in contact with the tooth, which aids in breaking down tartar and prevents subsequent tartar accumulation. There are also dental chews and rawhides that work in a similar fashion. Ask your veterinarian which treats and chews are the most beneficial and safe for your pet. You may have read about water additives available for at-home use, but it is not known how well these products work in dogs and cats. What we do know is that home tooth brushing, combined with veterinary formulated treats and chews make up the optimal at-home dental care plan, and can target every tooth in the mouth. But remember, even if you floss daily and brush your teeth religiously, you still have to go to the dentist to remove the stubborn tartar and make sure your teeth and gums remain healthy. The same is true for pets. The bottom line is that even with diligent at-home dental care, nothing can replace a thorough oral exam and dental cleaning by a vet. These at home measures help to keep your pet’s mouth even healthier! Please contact your veterinarian to discuss these options amore in depth, and to learn how your pet could benefit from routine dental care. Next time: How on Earth do you brush a dog or cat’s teeth?!?…

How On Earth Do You Brush A Dog or Cat’s Teeth?!?

Our most recent discussion involved the importance of at-home dental care, including brushing your pet’s teeth regularly, at an interval established by your veterinarian. This home care plan also included providing appropriate dental treats and chews, as recommended by your vet. You may be saying to yourself, “I know how to get my pet to eat a treat, but how in the world to I brush their teeth?” Have no fear! These simple steps will help get your pet comfortable with the tooth brushing experience. It just takes a little time and TLC! Remember, you can’t explain to your pet that brushing their teeth is good for their health. They simply see it as you attacking their mouth with a scary brush thingy. So take your time, and go just as slowly as your pet needs you to go. Every pet will be at a different starting point, so begin wherever you feel your pet will be most comfortable. Don’t move forward until your pet is absolutely ready. If at any point, you encounter resistance or frustration, stop and back up to the last step that worked until your pet gets becomes more accepting of the training. Then move forward again as tolerated. You only need to spend about 5 minutes per day with this step-wise training.

  1. Start by slowly using your fingers to manipulate the lips. Use rewards such as treats and praise while you do this.
  2. Place veterinary specific toothpaste on your finger and let your pet lick it off your finger. You could also try letting them lick it off the packaging, if they are wary of your gooey finger. This will be a natural treat, since the toothpaste is designed to taste good.
  3. Put the toothpaste on your finger and slowly place it onto your pet’s teeth and/or gums as tolerated. You don’t need to move your finger; just place it there for a couple of seconds. Eventually, you can use your finger to simulate a brushing pattern.
  4. Put the toothpaste on the tooth brush and let your pet lick it off the brush.
  5. Put the toothpaste on the toothbrush and place it onto your pet’s teeth and/or gums as tolerated, just as you did with your fingers.
  6. When your pet is ready, try using a brushing pattern, and stop when your pet stops tolerating it. This may only be 5-10 seconds, but that’s okay.
  7. Don’t push it, slowly increase the amount of time you spend brushing your pet’s teeth until you can reach all the teeth in the mouth.
  8. Sit back, and pat yourself on the back. Pat your pet on the back too, by giving them lots of love and maybe a couple of treats! With a little time and patience, most people can get to a point where they can brush their pet’s teeth consistently.

Some helpful tips: Focus on the outsides of the teeth and on the chewing surfaces – this is where brushing is the most important in pets. If you can reach the insides of the teeth and your pet will let you do this, then great. If not, it’s not the end of the world. You don’t need to brush their cheeks, tongue or palate, so don’t get too carried away or they will start becoming more resistant. When you add the dental treats and chews on top of brushing, it targets the chewing surfaces of the teeth, so you don’t need to spend as much time here during brushing if your pet won’t tolerate it. Your veterinarian can direct you to the best pastes and brushes for your pet’s oral health. If at any point you are struggling to get your pet to tolerate any of this, contact your vet. They would love to help you be successful in becoming an integral member of your pet’s oral health care team. Next time, we will talk about the reasons we put pets under general anesthesia when we clean their teeth at the vet’s office.…