Winning the War Against Dental Disease

Dental disease is often a complex problem.  Many pets don’t show initial signs when they are suffering from any assortment of dental abnormalities.  It is now common knowledge that dental disease can cause serious problems in the major organs for pets that are affected.  Just like in people, preventative care goes a long way in helping their overall oral health.

Oddly enough, I’m constantly surprised about the state that I see some pet’s teeth in.  To me, dental disease in pets should be something that is immediately comparable to dental disease in people.  Granted, people’s teeth (with routine care) rarely get as bad as I’ve seen your average pet’s teeth.  It just seems that since teeth are part of a person’s everyday life they would be more aware of dental prevention or problems in their pets.  Not so.

Why so glum? 

Dental disease can present itself in many forms depending upon the severity of disease.  Some symptoms are: halitosis (bad breath), anorexia (lack of appetite), yellow or brown buildup on teeth, loose, cracked or broken teeth, excessive salivation (drooling) or seeming inability to eat (food falling or dropping from the mouth), and/or sensitivity or pain when touched around the area.  If a person were dealing with any one of these issues, we wouldn’t hesitate to take ourselves to the dentist.

Total Tooth Annihilation

 Dental disease starts, like most things, with a recipe.  Food + saliva + bacteria = buildup

The way that I visualize this process working is to imagine what it feels like when you eat certain foods that seem to leave a film on your teeth after you eat.  Regardless of what you or your pet eats, this happens all the time.  There are just some foods that seem to make this more noticeable.  The difference is that we brush the buildup off after eating ( or are suppose to).

For dogs that don’t receive dental care, this process is constant.  They produce saliva constantly, they eat every day and there is always bacteria lingering in the mouth.  After a while, that film (called plaque) that has adhered to the teeth start to harden.  This hardened film is calculus and can sometimes be seen as a yellow or brown buildup along the gum line.  Calculus is most common around the teeth that are next to salivary glands (since saliva plays such a big role in the recipe) such as the large upper premolar tooth in the back of the mouth (called the upper 4th premolar).

If the plaque is left to harden into Calculus, only a professional dental cleaning can remove it.  If left untreated, this Calculus continues to spread and thicken.  The harm to the major organs comes in here.  This hardened bacteria can access the bloodstream by way of the root system of the teeth (the calculus starts to travel underneath the gumline the longer it is present).  Multiply this process by years, and you’ve got a body that is being constantly littered by bacteria.  Not only that, but a tooth that is constantly exposed to bacteria won’t last long and might become infected.  Even though some teeth are more susceptible to buildup than others, no tooth is really safe.

Taken from Prairie View Animal Hospital in Deklab, IL 's website.

Taken from Prairie View Animal Hospital in Deklab, IL ‘s website.

Actual Dental Chart that explains the Grades of Dental Disease

The pictures are pretty expressive and hard to deny.  This happens ALL the time.

Say It Ain’t So!

What can you do about it?  So glad that you asked!  There are several things.  As much of a broken record as this is going to sound, prevention is the best medicine.

Ultimately, the best dental prevention is the one that you are going to do at home with your pet.  I can tell you until I am blue in the face that brushing is best (it is!) but if you don’t ever do it, then it obviously isn’t best for your pet.  So…finding a dental plan that will fit your schedule is the first key.  I’m going to list out (in order of importance) the best kinds of dental prevention.

Brushing the Teeth

– Dental Chews: Now, there are so many different kinds out there, it’s hard to know what to buy.  Basically, there are two different kinds.  One’s that work by mechanical means (which means the act of chewing helps to scrape the teeth) and ones that have an anti-bacterial enzyme to help reduce the amount of bacteria on the teeth.  I like the second kind for the sheer reason that if I’m going to buy a treat for dental purposes, I want to get the most bang out of my buck and hard kibble should provide some mechanical prevention.

On all dental treats, follow recommendations and if you pet is overweight, take the calorie content into account.  Also, watch your pet before giving them.  If they don’t chew these treats (they just consume them), it isn’t helping their teeth.

CET Chews

CET Chews

 CET Chews have an enzyme that helps to reduce bacteria in the mouth.  This is the only brand that I’m familiar with.  If there are other brands out there, make sure that are endorsed by your veterinarian because you don’t want some weird treats that claim to have antibacterial chemicals and they aren’t proved to be safe and effective.

– Dental Rinse: Our veterinary clinic carries a variety of antibacterial mouth rinses and there is a water additive that works in the same fashion.  These work to decrease bacteria and can either be applied directly to the gum line or consumed (in the case of the water additive).

– Hard Kibble: I don’t even like to mention this, because in my experience, it is more of a passive occurrence than anything active enough to help.  That being said, there are dental diets out there that are specifically formulated to help prevent plaque buildup (notice I said plaque and not calculus).  There are also many diets out there that make claims of being a “dental diet.”  Make sure that if you are going to spend extra money to buy something specialized like this, that there is science, research and proven medicine behind the food.

All the suggestions above are preventative measures.  Once your pet starts accumulating calculus, the only (safe and effective) way to remove it is with a dental cleaning under anesthesia.  That link is a great explanation of why anesthesia-free dental cleanings are not as effective as ones under anesthesia.  Once again.  More bang for your buck.  If you are concerned about the safety of anesthesia, discuss with your veterinarian what ways they help reduce risk and what options you have.

Also something to note, just like in people, dental preventative care does not eliminate the need for routine dental cleanings.  Sad fact.  They merely help to keep your pet’s mouth health (great benefits here) and help extend the time between dentals.

Cost Conscience? 

February is National Dental Month, many veterinary clinics run discounted dental cleaning specials during this month.  If not, ask if they do offer any type of discounted dental specials.  If a dental cleaning is performed within 2 weeks after our clinic makes a recommendation (like at your annual examination), we offer a discount.

If your pet is a Grade I, get an estimate for a dental cleaning so that you know how much you need to start saving.  I highly recommend a separate savings account for your pet.

You can also look into alternate payment options like  Care Credit (only participating veterinary clinics accept it).


Now go out there and clean some teeth! :)

2 thoughts on “Winning the War Against Dental Disease

  1. And added note:

    A dental “cleaning” by a groomer is not the same thing as a dental cleaning from a veterinarian.

    Groomers will often offer this service as part of or in addition to regular grooming services. The “cleaning” done at a groomer’s is usually little more than a teeth brushing that you do at home. This kind of treatment isn’t very effective if it is the sole source of dental care provided for your pet. Because plaque hardens into calculus within 72 hours, a brushing will only clean off plaque accumulated in that amount of time. So, unless you are visiting the groomer every three days, you ned to be doing brushing at home too.

    A dental cleaning provided at a veterinary practice is more appropriately called either and SPF (scale, polish, fluouride) or dental prophylaxis or treatment. While your pet is under anesthesia, their teach will be scaled (where all tarter is removed), the teeth are polished to smooth surfaces, and treated with fluouride to seal and protect the teeth. This is referred to as prophylaxis because it prevents further dental disease. If further disease is present, it can be addressed, or treated. Additionally, a complete record of the teeth is taken and any potential problem area are noted. This is an in-depth service that cannot be provide without anesthesia and a groomer’s “cleaning” is never this thorough. It is important to avoid confusing the services as one in the same.

  2. Excellent point. There are so many areas that are advertised as a “cleaning” when it just isn’t so!

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