4 Really Good Reasons to Brush Your Pet’s Teeth
While brushing your dog or cat’s teeth can seem like a daunting task, it’s much simpler than it looks. The process is rarely dangerous, but getting acclimated does requires trust and patience on the part of both animals and pet parents. Never force a dog or cat to do anything! Some pets are skittish or stubborn about their personal space; in that case, turn to the professionals for help. Many veterinary clinics are more than happy to help out, for a small fee of course.
You can also make dental care fun by substituting traditional chew toys for dog dental treats. Canines’ wild forerunners took care of their chompers by gnawing on bones and sticks; simulate this behavior by providing your pup with plenty of (safe) chew toys and treats. The act of chewing scrubs food particles off the surface of teeth – maybe dogs do have it figured out after all!
Dental health is inextricably tied to your pet’s overall wellbeing. Inflammation and infections that originate in the mouth have symptoms that affect the whole body, like fever and loss of appetite. If left untreated, painful periodontal disease can lead to depression and destroy an animal’s ability to eat. Wellness care, as preventative practices like toothbrushing and vaccination are known, has enormous benefits for a pet’s future, but is not covered by traditional pet insurance policies.
Learn how failing to brush your pet’s teeth can have dangerous – and expensive! – consequences for his or her health.
Really Bad Breath
Let’s start with an innocuous side effect of neglecting pets’ pearly whites: halitosis, or chronic bad breath. Over time, both dogs and cats build up plaque and tarter on teeth. Sticky surfaces attract bacteria, which then breeds in the mouth and is responsible for the foul stench. If left untreated, it can progress to periodontal disease. Weirdly enough, the specific odor of your pet’s breath is important to diagnosis; a sweet or urine-like scent is indicative of kidney or liver disease rather than dental problems. Abscesses, a painful pocket of pus accompanying an infected tooth, can also be to blame.
In a perfect world, pet parents would bust out the toothbrush after every meal, but we know you’re busy. (Fluffy and Fido aren’t complaining!) Aim to brush your pets’ teeth two to three times per week, incorporating it into your daily routine. Eventually oral hygiene will be as standard to your pet as claw clipping and brushing. If the problem persists even after regular toothbrushing, visit your vet!
Gingivitis is a type of periodontal disease that primarily affects the gum line. The condition is caused by an accumulation of plaque onto which bacteria latch, secreting inflammatory toxins that damage gum tissue. Symptoms of gingivitis in pets include reddened and swollen gums, drooling, and bad breath.
Grade I and II gingivitis, known as Early and Advanced, is reversible with proper treatment. This can be extensive; x-rays are first taken to assess the extent of the inflammation. Professional dental cleaning is typically required, which can cost thousands of dollars depending on the size and age of the animal. Because gingivitis is entirely preventable, treatment for the condition is excluded by most pet insurance companies. Prescription toothpaste, food and mouth rinse are required to prevent the disease from progressing.
Reduced Immune Effectiveness
Shirking your dental duties can impact your pet’s overall health and have whole-body effects. “The bacteria in plaque does a lot of things,” says Dr. Brett Beckman, a veterinary dentist. “But one thing it does both in pets and humans is to cause our immune system to recognize it as foreign.” If it’s already distracted by the presence of plaque and tartar, the immune system might let lesser invaders like the common cold or mites slip through the cracks. Pets suffering from a chronic illness like diabetes may find their condition worsened; the American Veterinary Dental College cites research that has found periodontal disease causes detectable changes in the heart, liver and kidneys.
The first step is to start brushing your pet’s teeth! Inspect the tongue, teeth, and inside of the mouth during brush sessions to keep an eye on the status of your pet’s dental health. At yearly checkups – biannual for senior pets! – be sure the vet checks out the teeth and mouth area. If your pet has already developed periodontal disease and is suffering from impaired immune function, ask about supplements and other dietary changes you can make. Many superfoods have the same immune-boosting benefits for cats and dogs as they do for humans!
Bone and Tissue Loss
If gingivitis is left untreated, the corrosive bacteria will progress to deeper tissues and bone. Bleeding gums, loss of appetite, drooling, and whining or pawing at the mouth are all symptoms of advanced periodontal disease in pets. It can even impact behavior, causing depression or irritability due to chronic pain. At this stage, known as Early or Established Periodontitis (Grade III and IV), the damage has been done. Depending on the disease’s severity, loss of bone can be 10 to 30 percent. The secondary effects of supportive tissue disintegration include fracture, deformity, and severe infection leading to death.
Extraction of abscessed or damaged teeth is almost always required. Any surgery requires anesthesia; senior pets or those with a chronic medical condition require extra monitoring that adds to costs. A variety of advanced surgical and teeth-cleaning techniques may be employed in an effort to save existing teeth. Antibiotics are typically prescribed as part of the aftercare routine to banish any lingering bacterial infections. Work with your veterinarian to develop a diet and dental plan that prevents your pet’s condition from progressing.