Pet Dental Hygiene Important For Overall Health

Good pet dental hygiene is important not only for oral health, but for overall health.

Dental calculus leads to gum disease. Gum ailments lead to kidney disease, heart disease, abscessed teeth, loose teeth and loss of teeth.

Richie is a sweet boy, much-loved by his family.
Richie is a sweet boy, much-loved by his family.

Take Richie. Not literally. His owners love him too much. Still, Richie is a good example of a mostly-healthy dog with a hidden problem. During a routine semiannual examination we discovered that Richie has significant dental calculus buildup. Further investigation revealed a tooth that was so diseased it was loose.

A loose tooth is a painful tooth. Every time a pet bites down on a loose tooth it moves in the socket and that movement hurts. Even an accidental bumping of the tooth while barking or playing results in pain. Most loose teeth are destined for extraction.

Richie's biggest crushing tooth and associated gum are diseased, but the molar behind it is beyond saving.
Richie's biggest crushing tooth and associated gum are diseased, but the molar behind it is beyond saving.

Look at the photo. The big tooth below Shelly’s index finger is called the carnassial tooth, and, with its partner in the lower jaw, is used for crushing bones and hard food. Clearly it has calculus and gum disease evident by the receding of the red gum where it meets the tooth.  Another name for the carnassial tooth is third upper premolar.

Now look at the tooth behind it. See the dark color surrounding the tooth where it meets the gum? See the odd angle at which it sits? See the exposed roots? This first molar is loose enough to hurt, but not loose enough to fall out or even be extracted with the patient awake.

If his preanesthesia laboratory test results are good we will schedule Richie for general anesthesia, dental scaling and dental polishing. We will evaluate each tooth individually after they are cleaned to determine which, if any, additional teeth need to be removed.

Richie is now 5 ½ years of age. What his owners will notice is that, even though this is his first dental prophylaxis (prophy, or preventive care), his prophies will come closer and closer together as he ages. That change is a function of one of the many factors of evolving metabolism as we and our pets age, including the pH of saliva, bacterial population of our mouths and many others.

It is quite common for a pet to be 3-5 years of age at the time of his first dental scaling and polishing. Conversely, some pets are already in dire need of a cleaning at six months of age, and these patients will likely need prophies every six months for the rest of their lives unless the owners intervene with tooth brushing at least daily.

As we have said before, dogs and cats get calculus buildup on their teeth for the same reason people do. Our mouths, and our pets’ mouths contain minerals from saliva, and food particles. Normal bacteria in the mouth act upon these building blocks to form a matrix, a geometric pattern. If that matrix pattern is disturbed while the material is still in the plaque stage, the bacteria have to start completely over, making a new matrix. We have a 24 hour window to brush and stop the progression from plaque to calculus.

While not all pets will tolerate brushing of the teeth, those who will can extend the time between dental prophies.

See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.

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