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Dental Health Month

Happy February from Gruda Veterinary Hospital! 

February is one of my favorite months! Aside from the fact that you can actually get a spot on the treadmill again at the gym and we get to watch the Super Bowl, it’s National Pet Dental Health Month! There is so much to talk about when it comes to your pet’s dental health, that I decided to split up the conversation by species. This week’s article focuses on dogs. But don’t worry; I haven’t forgotten our feline friends and I will talk all about them next week. 

            Did you know that dental disease is the most common disease that affects dogs? Over 80% of dogs over the age of 3 have active dental disease and 2/3 of dogs over 3 have periodontal disease.  So what exactly is dental disease?

            Dental disease is a broad term that encompasses many different conditions we may find in the mouth. A common problem is tooth fractures. Chew toys and treats for dogs should bend and give upon compression. We typically see fractures when dogs are chewing on objects that are too hard such as their crates, bones, and even ice cubes. 

            The other common problem is periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is when the tissues that surround the teeth get inflamed or infected secondary to an accumulation of plaque or tartar. As we all know, the mouth is full of bacteria. If teeth are not brushed daily, the bacteria grow on the tooth surface and form an invisible layer called a biofilm. Overtime, this biofilm becomes tartar. The tartar irritates the gumline causing inflammation (gingivitis). If untreated, infection can spread deep into the tooth socket destroying the bone around the tooth. Teeth can become loose, painful, or even fall out.  Bacteria can also travel to other parts of the body such as the heart!

            So as you can see, oral health in our furry friends should not be overlooked. Not only is it important for their comfort, it is a critical aspect of their overall health.  

If your Veterinarian has recommended a dental cleaning for your dog, what should you expect? 

You should plan to have your pet at the hospital most of the day on the day of the dental cleaning. The veterinarian will perform and thorough physical examination and oral examination the morning of surgery as well as perform pre-surgical blood work. This bloodwork helps us to ensure that your pet can safely undergo anesthesia.  Once your pet is anesthetized, your veterinarian will perform dental radiographs (x-rays) and a more complete oral examination in order to assess the health of the bone surrounding the teeth, the tooth stability, the tooth roots, and the crowns.  

It is important to know that it is it is not possible to see with the naked eye some of the most important aspects of dental health. The tartar below the gumline and the findings on the x-rays provide critical information to your veterinarian about your individual pet and how to best help them. Sometimes it can be difficult to predict the extent of dental disease in advance of the procedure. Because of this, your veterinarian may contact you during the procedure in order to discuss any additional treatments that may be needed. If teeth are badly diseased or fractured, your veterinarian may recommend extracting or pulling those teeth so your pet does not have infection or pain in their mouths. Depending on the specific case, they may also discuss with you alternative options such as root canals. Next, the teeth will be scaled in order to remove all tartar above and below the gumline and polished. 

Now that your dog is finally going home with brand new shiny white teeth, how do you help slow down the tartar formation in the future? Daily tooth brushing using canine specific toothpaste is the number one way to prevent periodontal disease.  Chew toys, treats, special formulated foods, and water additives can assist in chemically or mechanically removing the biofilm from the teeth.  I recommend going to the website for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (www.vohc.org) to help you choose a product. This is a reliable resource that evaluates products for effectiveness and safety. You can also always ask your Veterinarian for recommendations for you specific dog because as we all know, no two are alike! 

We look forward to seeing you soon and please always feel free to ask us about your pet’s teeth and how we can best help them!

Lily Meisner, DVM