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Periodontal Disease

July 14, 2011

Periodontal disease is at the top of the list of most commonly diagnosed diseases in the adult cat and dog. It is a growing concern in our pets, causing more than just bad breath. Periodontal disease occurs when bacteria and tartar make their way under the gum line, causing destruction of the bone and gum tissue surrounding the root of the tooth. It is associated with tooth loss, as well as infection in the heart, liver and kidneys.

What can you do to fight periodontal disease? As with human dentistry, PREVENTION is key. Work with your pets when they are puppies or kittens to get them used to having their teeth brushed. Start slowly. Put a small amount of veterinary toothpaste on your finger and let your pet lick it. (Do not use human toothpaste, which is not meant to be swallowed because it contains fluoride.) Rub the toothpaste on the outsides of the teeth. If your pet is doing well with this, introduce the toothbrush and gradually increase the duration of brushing. Plaque can colonize a tooth within 24 to 36 hours, so brushing should be performed daily.

While daily brushing is ideal, there are other options available for home dental care. Dental diets are crunchy and help to mechanically break down plaque and tartar. Rawhides and dental chews are also beneficial. Make sure that the rawhide is appropriate for the size of the dog. Also, avoid Nyla bones and real bones, which can cause tooth fractures.

Home care can help prevent accumulation of plaque and tartar, but it cannot remove the tartar that is already present. Routine dental cleanings under anesthesia are required for this. Most pets will need cleanings every 6-12 months, but some need it less often. An ultrasonic scaler is used to remove plaque and tartar. Then the teeth are polished and a fluoride treatment is applied. The teeth are probed to detect any abnormalities that may need to be addressed while the pet is anesthetized. Once the tartar is removed, you can continue to care for the teeth at home as we talked about above. Start taking care of your dog or cat’s teeth now so that down the road you can help them to live longer and healthier lives!