Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Dirty Mouth Dilemma

The DogsLifeKC packs wants to thank Oak Park Veterinary Clinic's Jennifer S. Strickland, DVM, RN for sharing her time and thoughts with us.

February is National Pet Dental Health Month. Talk to your veterinarians about what is appropriate for your dog. Ask about possible specials during this upcoming month.

People often ask me "Do dogs really need dental care?" My answer to them is "Absolutely!"

Regular home care in addition to professional dental care can be beneficial in many ways for your dog:
  • A cleaner mouth leads to less halitosis or "bad breath."
  • A cleaner mouth is a healthier mouth. Regular dental care helps prevent spread of bacteria from the mouth to vital organs like the liver, kidneys and heart. 
  • A cleaner mouth is a more comfortable mouth, resulting in a good appetite and over all better quality of life.
A discussion by veterinarians on dental health is often viewed with a glazed look in the client’s eyes as many feel professional dental disease prevention is not essential to overall pet wellness and really is just a way of increasing the bottom line profits of the clinic. This could not be further from the truth. Veterinarians get involved in dental procedures and cleanings when severe periodontal disease has set in, and as the second line of defense against the onset of the disease. Therefore, your pet needs a combination of in-home (first line of defense) and professional care on a continual basis to keep their mouth clean. So let’s go through what you can do at home to avoid extra trips to your veterinary professional.

Periodontal disease is the number one infectious disease in dogs and cats. We see periodontal disease in about 80% of our canine patients and in about 70% of our feline patients. Periodontal disease is exclusively due to poor dental hygiene. Tartar buildup in our pets occurs at a rate five times faster than in humans. This is why you can’t compare your personal dental needs to your pet’s dental requirements. Home dental care is critical in avoiding periodontal disease among our pets.

Some basic signs that your pet may be suffering from periodontal disease are oral pain, bad breath which is totally unnatural in dogs and cats, infected or bleeding gums, loose teeth, and difficulty chewing dry food.

The disease process begins with bacteria invading and infecting the gums resulting in gingivitis. This bacteria is created when food debris is combined with oral epithelia cells, mucin, and oral glycoprotein. Just one milligram of plaque contains over one trillion bacteria cells. If left untreated the bacteria will advance beyond the gum line and into the supporting structures of the tooth. If allowed to continue to advance the bacteria will eventually attack the alveolar bone slowly eroding it to the point that the tooth will eventually fall out on its own. All the while this bacteria is moving into the bloodstream potentially doing damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, and lungs.


Stage 1: Periodontal disease is not very visually noticeable at this stage. It begins with gingival inflammation and variable accumulation of plaque. There is no discoloration at this stage. There is no deterioration of the supportive structures at this stage. Plaque control at home during this stage can reverse any pathologic changes.

Stage 2: The first visual signs of destructive periodontitis can be seen. Plaque and calculus begin to form below the gum line. The pet’s breath is now mildly offensive. There can be up to 25% tooth attachment loss at this stage. Even at this stage the disease is still reversible with a professional dental cleaning and proper home care.

Stage 3: Now moderate periodontitis has set in. 
The pet’s breath is now very offensive and noticeable at a short distance away from the mouth. There can now be up to 50% tooth attachment loss at this stage and up to 30% alveolar bone loss. There are now moderate to deep gingival pockets that have formed. The only option to cure the disease at this stage is aggressive periodontal therapy, but it is too late to correct the permanent pathologic changes that have occurred in the mouth.

Stage 4: This is the advanced periodontitis stage. 
The  recession of the gum line is extensive. The pet’s breath has become intolerable to the human nose. Teeth have become loose to the touch. There is now more than 50% bone loss and extensive deep pockets. Pets at this stage will require professional dental care up to and including complete dental extractions or root canals. A course of oral antibiotics will be necessary to curb the bacterial infection that has set in.

So how do we prevent periodontal disease? By developing a complete home and professional care plan we can keep the disease at bay. It starts with prevention and not just professional treatment.


Step 1: The easiest way to prevent plaque and tartar buildup on a daily basis without a lot of fuss is to give your pet a clinically proven dental chew designed for dogs and cats. There are several very good products on the market today. We recommend and use C.E.T. chews at our clinic. They are made by Virbac Animal Health and come in chewable sizes designed for all pets. These chews combine a natural antiseptic with abrasive action on the teeth to break up plaque and tartar. Whichever chew you choose it is important to know who is making the chew and where it is being made and with what ingredients. Far too many chews on the market today are doing more harm than good. Consult your veterinarian for safe brands.

Step 2: We know how hard it is to get your kids to brush their teeth so we are very aware of how difficult it is to find the time and energy to brush your pet’s teeth. Daily brushing yields the very best results but we know that may be unrealistic in most households. So we say that doing it is better than not doing it at all. Aim for three times a week and try to work up to daily brushing. The more you do it the easier your pet will be to work with. Again there are many fine products on the market, but we prefer C.E.T toothbrushes and toothpastes. They are specially formulated and designed with your pet in mind. The toothpastes come in several pet-friendly flavors. Your veterinarian will offer a complete dental care kit to get you started. The key to success with brushing your pet’s teeth is to go slowly. Maybe the first few days you are simply touching the mouth with your fingers without using any paste at all. Then you slowly ease your pet into the process by putting some toothpaste on your finger and working it around your pet’s mouth. Once your pet is used to the procedure you can then introduce a pet toothbrush or ribbed finger brush. Then brush just like they were your own teeth for about two minutes. Keep in mind what it would feel like if you had not brushed your teeth for a whole year and then suddenly had someone aggressively brushing out of the blue one day. You wouldn’t like it very much either and might try to run away. Success is built with small steps for a week or two. Both of you will be happier with the whole process if you approach it in this manner.

Step 3: Your veterinarian should conduct an annual dental exam as part of your pet’s annual wellness exam to check up on your home care. They can determine if your home care is keeping tartar and plaque at bay or if you need to step up your home dental treatments or maybe even have a professional dental cleaning to give you a good dental foundation to build from. Be sure to ask what they see and what the care plan should be going forward.

In addition your veterinarian may suggest/prescribe some dental health food designed specifically to assist in reducing the bacteria that causes gingivitis. You should consult with your veterinarian to see if a dental diet food is right for your pet. Whatever you do be sure not to put off proper pet dental care. Delaying treatment can lead to other previously discussed health concerns that can do permanent damage to your pet.

Pet Dr. J

Jennifer S. Strickland, DVM, RN

You can also visit her clinic on Facebook! 

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