Oz: Ignoring dental care a major health oversight for your pet

Oral hygiene has both medical and cosmetic significance for your pet. We humans, brush our teeth at least twice a day in order to keep them healthy.

Dogs and cats have teeth just like we do, and the same conditions that lead to our tooth and gum problems also occur in our pets’ mouths.

Research has shown that 90 per cent of pets over two years of age have significant mouth disease and 50  per cent of them require immediate attention.

Small breed dogs such as Yorkshire terriers and toy poodles are more prone to tartar buildup. Dental disease in pets goes beyond bad breath.

When a dog eats, food, saliva and bacteria will stick to its teeth.

This combination of food, saliva and bacteria is called plaque, which causes inflammation and breakdown of the gums and tissue surrounding the teeth. Inflammation of the gum around the teeth is called gingivitis.

When plaque stays on the teeth for long enough, it will harden and turn into tartar, also known as calculus. Tartar allows more bacteria and debris to accumulate, which makes inflammation of the gums worse.

If this process goes unchecked, the supporting structures of the tooth degenerate. This process is known as periodontal disease. The gums become separated from the tooth (periodontal pockets)—a condition which might lead to tooth abscess (formation of pocket of puss around the tooth’s root) and eventually to loss of the tooth.

A pet with an advanced oral disease is at risk of developing multiple medical problems because of shifting of the bacteria from the mouth to various internal organs through the bloodstream.

Severe dental disease can lead to life threatening conditions. The main target organs at risk for infections are the lungs, heart, kidney and joints.

The best way to prevent tartar accumulation and gingivitis is daily brushing. You can use a baby tooth brush, but I personally find that the easiest is to use pet oriented toothbrush that you can wear on your finger.

You should always use pet toothpaste and not human toothpastes, salt or baking soda.

Toothpastes foaming action is irritating and all of these substances can cause illness if swallowed. Pets that are getting fed with canned food are more prone to dental diseases formation.

I recommend avoiding giving cow’s bones to dogs for teeth cleaning because the bones can cause fractures of the teeth, ask your vet about dental treats and products.

Providing your pet with good oral care is extremely important to its health. Unfortunately some pets are reluctant to cooperate so it can be very challenging. An annual oral exam is recommended. Your veterinarian can offer specific ways to improve your own pet’s oral hygiene.

Moshe Oz operates the Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital in West Kelowna.

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