Prevention and Treatment of Oral Disease in Dogs and Cats
by Jacqueline Sehn, DVM
If the following steps are taken, your dog and cat will have strong, healthy teeth and gums.
First, examine mouth, gums and teeth of your pet regularly. Is the breath fresh? Are the teeth plaque and tartar free? Do the gums look pink, or are they red and swollen and prone to bleeding? Is there gum recession, root exposure, food retention, or gum growths? Are there too many teeth? Are the teeth firmly attached? Are the teeth discolored, broken, or chipped?
Depending on your answers, you may find your pet already has problems enough to warrant a vet visit. But if your pet is young and healthy, or just had a professional periodontal treatment, home care to prevent dental and gum disease is what you need.
Dental home care
Home care is an essential part of maintaining a healthy mouth. Brushing your pet's teeth is the most effective way to remove dental plaque, and a plaque-free mouth allows for healthy gums and periodontium.
Plaque is made up of a combination of bacteria, food debris, saliva and some inflammatory cells and bacteria by-products.
Daily toothbrushing eliminates most plaque and dramatically impacts on oral health. The toothbrush should be soft to medium texture, sized for the pet's comfort, and tasty toothpaste may enhance acceptance (also, since pets don't spit, fluoride toothpastes aren't recommended).
Brushing in a circular motion at a 45 degree angle allows for the bristles to penetrate the gingival sulcus where plaque quickly accumulates.
Stand beside a large pet; consider placing a small pet on your lap. Rather than opening the pet's mouth, at first just pull the lips apart, which lets you see what you're doing without too much discomfort for your pet.
Start with a few teeth, then make the sessions longer and more thorough.
Start with very young pets - it's easier!
Reward your pet afterwards; play a game, go for a walk, give them extra attention!
Diet is important for healthy teeth and gums
Dietary recommendations. It is mainly because of composition and consistency of commercial pet foods (which contain refined grains and often sugars) that our pets now also need to brush to prevent plaque formation. Their wild ancestors, feeding on raw meat, bones and vegetables, wouldn't have this kind of problem.
Chewing for extended periods will stimulate the flow of saliva, which contains antibacterial agents that keep the mouth clean. Chewing also is likely to strengthen the alveolar bone and periodontal ligaments that hold the teeth in place.
But chewing on cooked bones is hazardous, since they become devitalized and hardened. When they break, they can shatter into jagged shards and hurt the pet's digestive tract. Hard bones also may lead to dental fractures. Soft, raw bones, however, are not only nutritious and delicious to chew on, but also will fracture into small, harmless pieces and then be swallowed, supplying your pet with minerals, bone marrow, and amino/fatty acids from meat clinging to them. They could become impacted between teeth, but are easily removed if so.
Feeding your pet a natural, raw, balanced diet that includes raw bones (such as cow knuckles and marrow bones also may lead to dental fractures), and brushing several times per week should keep your pet's mouth clean and breath fresh!