By Dr. David Thompson
If you could only prevent one disease in your pet, how would you choose which one?
You might choose the disease that is:
- most common, (more common than fleas), and one that affects 75% of dogs and cats by 3 years of age
- most likely to cause chronic discomfort
- most likely to shorten your pet’s life
This really sounds like a tough disease, and it is! We see this disease all the time at Animal Hospital of North Asheville, and it is sneaky because it affects young and old and every breed and every sex. It is especially crafty because it progresses so slowly that it is very difficult for you to realize that it is happening.
Pets seldom show any symptoms; but every day, your pet’s gums are progressing towards periodontal disease if you are not doing something to prevent it. Even when it reaches an advanced stage and is very painful, pets can’t tell you what they are going through! Often families have no idea.
Periodontal Disease has already gained much public notice in people since our dentists and doctors know that maintaining healthy gums is a key to good overall health. Managing periodontal disease is now being acknowledged as an important part of preventative care for pets as well. Prevention is really quite simple; bacteria concentrate in saliva and attach to the surfaces of the teeth to form a biofilm. This can be easily brushed away…you and I do it every day when we brush our own teeth. However, once it hardens by stealing minerals from the saliva, it forms tartar which is like a living coral reef made up of minerals and millions of living bacteria (tartar is 70% bacteria). Like all living things, the bacteria reproduce and make toxic waste products. Some waste products are free to rinse away down the throat. However, the toxins produced by tartar pressing against the gum tissue can’t rinse away and they are so toxic that they kill the gum tissue cells and then the bone cells beneath the gum tissue.
Grade I Periodontal Disease (see picture below) is gingivitis, which is simply inflammation of the gums. Remember, you and I start brushing well before gingivitis starts. We have our teeth cleaned professionally before we see gingivitis and tartar. It is not a good practice to allow tartar to build up before having our pet’s teeth cleaned. If you see brown on your pet’s teeth, it usually means that tartar has formed. It is best to get them cleaned before tartar forms. Don’t wait until you see brown.
Grade II Periodontal Disease is gingivitis along with inflammation and swelling of the gums. Both Grade I and Grade II can be reversed with a simple professional cleaning.
Grade III Periodontal Disease is inflammation, swelling, and bone loss.
Grade IV Periodontal Disease destroys enough bone such that the tooth is mobile.
Prevention is Best
We all know that there are periodontists for humans and that the same periodontal techniques probably work for dog and cat teeth. However, periodontal therapy of Grade III and IV is not as successful in dogs and cats as it would be in people because a periodontist will tell a human patient that the success of treatment is directly proportional to the willingness and consistency of the human performing home care. Even with a cooperative pet and a motivated owner, it is challenging to equal a periodontist's recommended human daily home care of brushing three times daily for two full minutes each time, flossing for 20 minutes daily, gargling with a prescription gargle, brushing certain teeth with a little “Christmas tree" shaped brush, and having a deep cleaning with the periodontal hygienist and an evaluation every 2- 6 months depending on the severity of the condition. Because this type of home care is not practical for pets, we typically have to extract teeth affected by Grade III and IV periodontal disease.
So the important thing to remember is, no human and no pet is spared dental disease. If you wait until permanent changes occur to the gums and bone, extractions may be your only option. Ideally, start home care early in your pet’s life as a puppy or a kitten. No matter what age, commit 20 seconds daily and have at least yearly professional cleanings (COHAT = Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment) for your pet. The great thing about brushing is that it is essentially FREE. All that is required is a pet toothbrush and paste and enough love to commit 20 seconds daily.
Here are two great videos that will help you learn the best way to brush your pet’s teeth. One is for brushing a cat’s teeth and one is for brushing a dog’s teeth. However, if you have a dog that resists having his or her teeth brushed, you should watch both the dog video and the cat video because the same principles that must be used to win over a cat to idea of brushing can also be used with dogs with one important exception to what is stated in the video: Never allow a dog free access to the toothpaste or the toothbrush. Dogs will chew them and serious complications can result.
Please feel free to come into Animal Hospital of North Asheville if you need a pet toothbrush or paste (don’t use human toothpaste since it's not meant to be swallowed) or just have questions. Spend just 20 seconds a day and your pet will be healthier, live longer, have better smelling breath, and be more comfortable, and your veterinary bills might even be lower!