By Capt. Nicholas Anderson
Special to GUIDON
When was the last time you brushed your teeth?
Most people would likely say within 12 to 24 hours of reading this article. When was the last time you brushed your dog’s or cat’s teeth? Most people, unfortunately, would say they never have, or perhaps once or twice after their veterinarian mentioned their furry friend had some dental disease. This discrepancy is the main reason periodontal disease (i.e. dental disease) is within the top two disease processes for dogs and cats diagnosed by small animal veterinarians.
Periodontal disease refers to the inflammation and subsequent loss/recession of the periodontal structures within your pet’s mouth. The presence of tartar, plaque, and subsequent calculus (i.e. solid, strong, calcified build-up) on teeth invariably leads to inflammation of the gum tissue immediately adjacent to the build-up. This inflammation starts as gingivitis (i.e. inflammation of the gum tissue), but quickly progresses to cause periodontitis (i.e. inflammation of the periodontal ligament and surrounding bone). The periodontal ligament holds the root of the tooth to the bone surrounding the tooth root, and inflammation of this ligament and associated bone are the key factors in periodontal disease.
When this inflammation is present for long enough, the gum tissue, periodontal ligament, and jaw bone starts to recede or get destroyed, leading to further issues. Severe periodontal disease can lead to many unfortunate consequences.
Tooth loss, pain, infection, and even fractured jaws can be caused from it. Unfortunately, even if your pet has mild periodontal disease for its whole life and gets regular veterinary care, this can lead to the same end point. The loss of periodontal structures is permanent, and therefore even with regular veterinary anesthetic cleanings, the loss of these structures is still concerning.
What can the average pet owner do to combat this nasty and progressive disease process? The most important thing one can do is easily accomplished within one to two minutes every day. Brushing pets’ teeth is far-and-away the most helpful way to minimize the short and long-term effects of periodontal disease. This task is not always easy to initiate, but once it becomes habitual, it is easy to maintain (much like most habits).
To initiate this training, utilize a safe, semi-solid food that tastes pretty good for your pet and use a bare finger to try to rub the food stuff on your pet’s teeth and gum tissue. This should be done daily and in the same location at roughly the same time to get your pet accustomed to the procedure. Utilize a reward afterward to allow for the experience to be a positive one for your pet (e.g. a walk, going outside in the yard, a meal, a treat).
Making the entire experience as positive as possible is the best way to get quick and lasting effects. Slowly graduate to utilizing pet-specific toothpaste but following the above guidance of keeping the time, location, and reward consistent. Utilize your finger at first, then graduate to a pet-specific finger toothbrush. Also important to note, the outside of the teeth (near the cheek tissue), is where the majority of periodontal disease occurs in cats and dogs, and therefore is the target area for prevention. If your pet has dental disease already, he/she most likely will benefit from a dental cleaning under general anesthesia prior to initiating a successful home dental care plan.
Dental cleanings and surgical dental care are available at most veterinary clinics including the Fort Leonard Wood Veterinary Treatment Facility.
(Editor’s note: Anderson is a veterinarian at the Fort Leonard Wood Veterinary Treatment Facility.)