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Pet Dental Frequently asked questions
 
 

Dental Frequently Asked Questions

I was unaware that dogs have dental problems. Is it common?
Are dental problems the same in pets and people?
What is periodontal disease?
Is periodontal disease very common?
How does tartar form, and what does it do?
Is tartar harmful?
How can I prevent tartar formation on my pet's teeth?
Will feeding dry food remove tartar?
Why can't I just remove the tartar and plaque with a dental scaler?
Do I have to make an appointment for my pet to have a dental scaling and polishing?
How can I prevent tartar accumulation after the procedure?
Can I use human toothpaste?
Why is pet toothpaste recommended?
What are cervical neck lesions in cats?

I was unaware that dogs have dental problems. Is it common?
Dental disease is one of the most common medical conditions seen by veterinarians. Over 68% of all dogs and cats over the age of three are estimated to have some form of periodontal or dental disease. Few pets show obvious signs of dental disease. It is up to the pet's family and veterinarian to uncover this hidden and often painful condition.

Are dental problems the same in pets and people?
No. In people, the most common problem is tooth decay, which, due to the loss of calcium from the enamel, results in painful, infected caries (also called cavities). In the dog, tooth decay represents less than 10% of all dental problems. The most common dental problems seen in dogs are caused by periodontal disease.

What is periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease is a term used to describe inflammation or infection of the tissues surrounding the tooth. Accumulation of tartar and calculus on the teeth causes gum recession around the base of the tooth. Infection soon follows and the gums recede further, exposing sensitive unprotected tooth root surfaces and the bony tooth sockets Left untreated, the infection spreads deep into the tooth socket, destroying the bone. Ultimately, the tooth loosens and falls out.

Is periodontal disease very common?
It is estimated that more than two-thirds of dogs and cats over three years of age suffer from some degree of periodontitis, making it by far the most common disease affecting our pets.

How does tartar form, and what does it do?
Plaque is a gummy substance that forms on the teeth within a few hours after a meal. Within twenty-four hours, plaque begins to mineralize by combining with salts that are present in the saliva. As the plaque continues to accumulate and harden, it eventually forms tartar. Tartar can cause dental problems such as periodontal (gum) disease if not controlled.

Is tartar harmful?
Tartar is harmful to the teeth and gums in two ways. First, it serves as a place where bacteria can grow and multiply in the mouth. Both the bacteria and the tartar cause inflammation of the gums, or gingivitis, which often results in bleeding. Worsening of the gingivitis leads to periodontal disease, which leads to further inflammation. There is substantial scientific evidence that the bacteria on the tartar can be absorbed into the blood stream and deposited in various organs, including the heart and the kidneys. Second, as tartar builds up along the gum line, it pushes the gums away from the roots of the teeth. As the gums recede, they expose the sensitive, enamel-free part of the tooth causing and pain. Eventually, if the tartar is not removed, it will cause the periodontal disease to progress, and the teeth will loosen and fall out.

How can I prevent tartar formation on my pet's teeth?
After your dog's teeth have been professionally cleaned and polished by your veterinarian, we recommend beginning home dental care to help reduce plaque and tartar buildup, particularly tooth brushing using toothpaste that is specifically designed to be swallowed. Special dog chew toys and treats may help reduce or delay tartar build-up.

Some general tactics you can use to help reduce plaque and tartar buildup on your dog's teeth are:

  • Brush your pet's teeth. This is one of the most effective ways to remove plaque before it turns into tartar. Use enzymatic toothpaste that is designed for use in dogs and cats. Do not use human toothpaste. Many human toothpastes and other oral hygiene products contain xylitol, a sugar substitute that is safe for use in humans but highly toxic to dogs. Even if your human toothpaste does not contain xylitol, it will still contain ingredients that can cause an upset stomach or digestive disturbance if it is swallowed. Brushing should be done at least twice weekly (preferably daily), but we understand that not all dogs will tolerate brushing. Special finger brushes are made that make this task easier for you and your pet.
  • Use a daily oral rinse. This type of product helps reduce the bacterial count in the mouth, resulting in improved breath. However, make sure that the product is designed for use in pets. An increasing number of human oral rinse products now contain xylitol which is toxic to our pets. You can also add a special rinse, Oxyfresh, to your pet's drinking water to kill the bacteria that cause plaque.
  • Offer your dog specifically designed chew toys and dental treats that are designed to help reduce or remove mild tartar accumulation such as CET Dental Chews.
  • Have your veterinarian perform a prophylactic dental cleaning every six to twelve months, or at the first sign of tartar buildup. Regular dental cleaning is as important in dogs as it is in people, and will prevent irreversible damage to the gums and roots.

Will feeding dry food remove tartar?
Generally, dry food is not that effective in removing tartar since most dogs don't chew their food well and typically only use the back molars during eating. Once tartar has formed, it will be necessary to remove it by professional scaling and polishing under general anesthesia.

Why can't I just remove the tartar and plaque with a dental scaler?
Although you can remove the tartar that has accumulated above the gumline in some dogs that are extremely co-operative, there are three problems with doing this. First, only the tartar above the gumline is removed, leaving behind the material below the gumline, which will continue to cause periodontal problems. Second, it is not possible or safe to clean the inner surfaces of the teeth properly in a conscious dog. Third, aside from potentially harming your pet's mouth or the pet harming you, you will damage the tooth surface by creating microscopic scratches; these will provide areas for bacteria to cling to and encourage more rapid plaque formation, thus making the problem worse. (This is the reason why your dental hygienist always polishes your teeth after removing the tartar with dental instruments).

Do I have to make an appointment for my pet to have a dental scaling and polishing?
Yes. Your veterinarian will perform pre-anesthetic blood tests, examine your pet for any other underlying disorders prior to the procedure, and determine if antibiotic treatment should be started in advance.

How can I prevent tartar accumulation after the procedure?
Plaque and tartar begin forming in as little as six hours after your pet's dental cleaning. A home dental care program including regular tooth brushing is a must for all pets. Your veterinarian will provide you with detailed instructions on how to brush or rinse your pet's teeth.

Can I use human toothpaste?
Absolutely not. Human dentifrice or toothpaste should never be used in dogs. Many human toothpastes and other oral hygiene products contain xylitol, a sugar substitute that is safe for use in humans but highly toxic in dogs.

Even if there is no xylitol in the toothpaste, these foaming products contain ingredients that are not intended to be swallowed and that could cause internal problems if they are swallowed. Human products often contain higher levels of sodium than your pet requires, which is another reason why they should not be swallowed.

You should also avoid using baking soda to clean your dog's teeth. Baking soda is alkaline and if swallowed can upset the acid balance in the stomach and digestive tract. In addition, baking soda does not taste very good, and may cause your dog to be uncooperative when you try to brush its teeth.

Why is pet toothpaste recommended?
Numerous pet toothpastes that are non-foaming and safe to be swallowed are available in flavors that are appealing to dogs; depending on the brand, you may be able to find flavors such as poultry, beef, malt or mint. If you use a product that tastes good, your pet will be more likely to enjoy the whole experience. In addition to the pleasant taste, many of these doggy toothpastes contain enzymes that are designed to help break down plaque chemically, thus reducing the time you need to spend actually brushing your dog's teeth.

What are cervical neck lesions in cats?
Cervical neck lesions result from a progressive destruction of the enamel resulting in slowly deepening "holes" (cavities or caries) in affected teeth. Once the sensitive parts of the tooth are exposed, these lesions are intensely painful, and the only effective and humane treatment is to extract the tooth. The cause of this disease is unknown; however, poor oral hygiene may play a role in the disease process. (see handout "Feline Oral Resorptive Lesions").

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Ernest Ward, DVM and used with permission by Lifelearn.

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