Pets Have Teeth, Too!
Michael Stephan, D.V.M.
Juno Beach Animal Hospital
Did you know that simply keeping your pets teeth clean can add three to five years to its life? Regular dental cleanings remove built up plaque and tarter and help treat and prevent gingivitis. Gingivitis allows bacteria in the mouth to enter the blood stream every time your pet eats. These bacteria are filtered out of the blood by the heart, kidneys, lungs, and liver. Over time they cause diseases which can significantly shorten your pets life.
In the heart, the bacteria cause thickening of the heart valves. As the valves thicken, the flow of blood around them causes a murmur. With time the valves begin to fail and congestive heart failure occurs which causes the backing up of fluid into the lungs or liver.
In the kidneys, the bacteria cause scarring of the microscopic filters that remove waste products from the blood that then leave the body in urine. Once these tiny filters are damaged by scarring, they can no longer remove toxins from the blood. Kidneys are not capable of regeneration. Once a filter is lost it can not be replaced. The kidneys also produce an important hormone that stimulates the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow. As the kidneys fail, this hormone is lost and the body becomes severely anemic.
The lungs and liver suffer less permanent damage than the heart and the kidneys, but they may harbor chronic infections which weaken and debilitate your pet.
A thorough dental procedure must be done under general anesthesia. A blood chemistry profile and complete blood count should be performed prior to any anesthetic procedure. This profile will alert your veterinarian to any early stage diseases which may be present. In some cases, your veterinarian might suggest treating these diseases before proceeding with the dental cleaning.
A complete dental procedure is usually performed by a technician and consists of three steps: an ultrasonic cleaning, polishing, and fluoride treatment. Ultrasonic cleaning removes built up plaque and tarter from the surface of the tooth and under the gums. Polishing removes microscopic grooves in the surface of the tooth. These grooves provide a foothold for new plaque to adhere to the tooth. Fluoride helps to strengthen the enamel of the tooth and fights decay.
Once the cleaning is complete the veterinarian will examine the mouth looking for cracked, broken, or diseased teeth and use a dental probe to look for deep pockets beneath the gum line. Once the examination is complete, the veterinarian will decide if any x-rays or extractions are indicated. Depending on the amount of damage present, some teeth can be saved with root canals, fillings, or crowns. If the damage is too great, extraction may be the only option. If you are interested in a restorative crown for a broken tooth, your veterinarian may suggest a referral to a veterinary dentist.
This type of cleaning is generally needed every one to three years depending on your individual pet, the food he or she eats, and the level of preventative care you can perform at home between cleanings. Check your pets teeth by gently lifting the lip and inspecting the surface of the teeth and the condition of the gums. If there is build up of tarter, if the gums appear red or swollen, or if you pet has bad breath, call your veterinarian to make an appointment for a dental exam and to discuss a cleaning. February is Pet Dental Health Month. You may notice articles like this one in print and on televison aimed at raising awareness of the importance of dental health in pets. Many veterinarians offer discounts on dental cleanings and dental health items for pets. We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to discuss this issue with us and discover ways you can help prolong the life of your pet.