Did you know that approximately 80% of pets have dental disease by age 3? Many pet owners don’t, and they also often don’t realize it’s impact on their pet’s overall health. Because of this, February is Pet Dental Health Month in North America. Throughout the month, Veterinary Clinics across Canada and USA hold different events and promotions geared towards increasing pet owner awareness of dental disease and it’s impact on their pet’s health.
Last year, about 90% of our clinic’s patients that required dental procedures came in with either a sinus infection or pneumonia. As well, patients with heart disease either had a history of dental disease, or had multiple tooth infections at the time. While the percentages will change with each clinic, the general trend is the same- dental disease is linked to many other diseases than simply sore teeth and not wanting to eat.
As our pets age, bacteria build up in the plaque and tartar on the teeth. The gums then become inflamed to help fight the infection and bleed easily because of the inflammation. When there is tartar and plaque on your pet’s teeth, every time it bites down on anything, the gums are damaged and begin to bleed. Once their gums bleed, the bacteria from the teeth get into the bloodstream and can infect anywhere in the body. Most often they infect the lungs or heart valves, leading to pneumonia and heart disease, but can also infect the kidneys and other organs. Over time, the constant damage this infection does to these organs can lead to premature failure as they age.
Another common reason pets that require dental disease are brought to the veterinarian, is for nasal discharge. This is because the tartar and plaque works it’s way along the outside of the tooth root and creates a tooth root abscess. The bone between a pet’s teeth and its sinuses are very thin and if the abscess grows large enough, it can burst into the sinuses, creating a sinus infection that drains out the nose.
Dental disease in pets can be hard to determine because they hide the pain well and will often continue to eat and chew on toys unless it is very severe. The following are some indicators of dental disease:
• Bad breath
• Tartar build-up on any tooth
• Chewing on one side of the mouth
• Not playing as much with chew toys
• Pain when a tooth is touched
• Nasal discharge – usually from one nostril only
• Swollen cheek or jaw
• Troubles Breathing
To prevent dental disease from creating problems in your pet, prevention is best. Things such as brushing your pet’s teeth, giving them dental chews and regular check ups with your veterinarian go a long way. Like people, our pets still require regular teeth cleaning using a scaler and polisher. Many pet owners shy away from the cost and risk of the anesthesia but preventative cleaning costs less. It also has a lower risk than once the dental disease become severe, requiring multiple extractions. While some pet owners look to Anesthesia-free dentals, also known as “gental cleanings or standing cleanings”.these are not effective to remove all the tartar under the gums to prevent tooth root abscesses and bacteria from getting into the bloodstream. Unfortunately. pets don’t hold still well enough to properly clean their teeth without anesthesia. The good news it that modern anesthesia protocols are very safe.
This February, help keep your pet healthy as they age by ensuring their teeth are healthy by visiting your veterinary clinic for a dental check-up and discussion if you have any questions.
Dr. Ryan Ridgway
Southwest Mobile Pet Care