It starts innocently enough with an easily overlooked, soft and sticky film. Before a day has passed that slimy coating begins to transform into a hardened, stubborn mess. What follows is a slow but steady assault using a highly efficient distribution system to attack a variety of fronts.
No, it’s not some new terrorist attack. It’s playing out daily in our mouths.
You likely include regular dental care in your daily routine to avoid problems and expense. Our pets face the same challenges when their dental care is ignored.
What are some signs of dental problems with our pets?
Let’s talk about dog breath for a moment. Sure, this can be the result of scoring an unauthorized snack from the trash or another exciting area. More often than not, dog breath is the first sign of neglected dental hygiene. It results from the food bacteria which forms that stubborn film on your dog’s pearly whites after eating.
Dog breath usually precedes more serious signs of dental problems like bleeding gums, drooling, sensitivity to hard food or treats and pawing at the mouth.
The good news is that a lot of dog breath can be easily prevented with daily care. But before looking at our options for care, it helps to understand why daily care is so important. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, approximately 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show signs of dental disease by three years of age.
Dog breath may begin with a bacteria film, but the invading army doesn’t stop there. Once the bacteria on your dog’s teeth form plaque, the next stage quickly follows. Plaque becomes an even harder mass called tartar. While plaque can be removed by brushing, tartar requires the heavy artillery. It’s best avoided before it gains a foothold (or would that be a toothhold?)
Why is tartar such a problem?
Tartar is a stubborn, calcified mass that attaches to your dog’s teeth. As it forms, tartar creeps under the gumline and attacks mouth tissue. This leads to even worse breath, but that’s the least of our problem now. It also leads to bone or tooth loss. The biggest concern is the possibility of serious bacterial infection spreading throughout the body.
A healthy mouth uses enzymes and “good” bacteria in saliva to help control some of the “bad” bacteria that sticks around after meals. When tartar causes tissue breakdown, some of that “bad” bacteria has a clear pathway to other parts of the body. The bacteria now has a green light to enter the bloodstream through the tartar- damaged tissue.
Once bacteria has entered the bloodstream, your dog’s immune system is called into action to fight the bacteria. Depending on your dog’s overall health, the bacteria may be neutralized before it can do lasting damage. Or not.
Bacteria from dental disease can cause organ damage
Many of us are unaware that dental disease can trigger problems with kidneys, heart, liver or lungs. It can seem quite a leap to go from bad breath to organ disease or failure. The science, however, is clear.
These organs can collect bacteria introduced into the bloodstream from the damage caused by tartar buildup. This results in a reduction of the organ’s function and disease development.
When we look at our pet’s mouth and see brown or yellowish deposits at the base of a tooth, it often means tartar has formed below the gumline as well. Tartar below the gumline is not easily removed at home. It’s far better to prevent it from forming than to be forced into an expensive, but critical dental cleaning to protect our pet’s health.
Home dental care does not need to be a chore
Daily brushing is an ideal way to keep dental disease at bay. There are a few different approaches to brushing, and each is equally effective. If you opt for a toothbrush and toothpaste approach, be sure to use products designed for pets. Human toothpaste is not intended to be ingested and can irritate your pet’s stomach. Pet toothpaste is yummy!
Pet toothbrushes are available in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles. A traditional toothbrush style may be the easiest to reach the back teeth of a larger dog, while a finger toothbrush may be the best solution for a smaller pet. Even a piece of gauze wrapped around your finger can be effective.
It is a common misperception that brushing your pet’s teeth is difficult. Once you’ve introduced the idea to your pet, it’s actually simpler than brushing your own teeth. You don’t need to be concerned with reaching the inside surfaces of the teeth, just concentrate on the outside. Your pet’s tongue will distribute the toothpaste inside the mouth. Chose a tasty toothpaste, get comfortable handling your pet’s mouth, and the routine may even become something you’ll both look forward to each day.
Brushing isn’t the only way to help with dental hygiene
While brushing is the most effective way to keep bacteria at bay, it is not your only option. There are also gels that can be applied to the tooth surface. These will save you a few seconds over brushing, but the process is similar. Seaweed based supplements can added to the food or water bowl, and may well be the simplest approach of all. These products work with your pet’s saliva to distribute their active ingredients.
Dental chews are available in a variety of sizes. These also work by using saliva to distribute active ingredients in the chews. Some chew toys can be effective at cleaning teeth with gentle rubbing action or addition of toothpaste.
Don’t be fooled by foods or biscuits that claim to clean teeth by friction. Unless they contain an active cleaning ingredient, these will be crunched and swallowed far too quickly to do any surface scrubbing.
Our (and our dog’s) personal favorite dental helper is a raw meaty bone. Chowing down on raw bones (never cooked!) is a nutritious treat and a completely natural way to brush teeth and distribute natural enzymes which help destroy bad bacteria and plaque formation.
We understand the problems and expense that can result from neglecting our own dental hygiene
Our personal dental care needs are easy to address since we’ve got fingers. Why not extend a helping hand to your pets’ mouths as well? Their paws are not nearly as well suited for the task.
There’s a war being waged just below your pet’s eyes. It’s easily won with a little help from their friend- you!
February is National Pet Dental Health month. It’s an annual reminder to do the right thing for your pet!