Thursday, October 20, 2011

Oral Education

When it comes to our patients teeth, we have a wide variety of responses from clients. There are some people who have never even looked at their cat or dog's teeth, some people who are very diligent about dental care, and some that are anywhere in between. Just like in people, we are discovering that good dental care is important to the health and happiness of your pet.

Believe it or not the most common canine disease is periodontal disease. Periodontal disease occurs when an accumulation of tartar and calculus build up on the tooth causing the surrounding tissue to become inflamed. This contributes to gum recession, exposing sensitive, unprotected tooth surfaces. If this goes untreated, the infection will eventually spread to the tooth socket causing it to become loose and fall out. Sometimes the infection can be so bad that it will cause an abscess to form. Tooth root abscesses are painful and often times are associated with a fever and lethargy. They must be drained and the tooth must be extracted in order to treat an abscess.

While loose teeth and tooth root abscesses can happen in cats, they also have their own special tooth problem called a Feline Oral Resorbtive Lesion (FORL). This occurs when certain cells responsible for normal tooth formation actually start reabsorbing the tooth itself. FORL's can be very painful, especially in advanced cases. Treatment usually involves amputating the crown of the tooth and allowing the root to be reabsorbed completely on it's own.

Prevention of tartar and calculus is tricky. The best way to prevent tartar build up is to brush your pets teeth, and there are a few important things to note. First and foremost is the toothbrush. Many pet stores and veterinary clinics sell pet toothbrushes, all of which may work fine depending on your pet. One option many of our clients prefer is the finger brush. It's a small brush that fits over your finger and allows easier access to the back teeth. If, for whatever reason, you decide not to use a finger brush you can use a regular human toothbrush, just make SURE that it is a soft bristle brush.

When choosing a toothpaste, make sure you get an enzymatic toothpaste that is OK if swallowed. Any good pet toothpaste will advertise this on their label. Do NOT use human toothpaste as it is not intended to be ingested and also contains sodium, which may cause problems in some pets.

Having said this, you might find that your pet has no interest in having their teeth brushed. If that is the case you will need to consult with your veterinarian on scheduling a regular periodontal procedure. How often your pet's teeth are cleaned will depend on how dirty they get. Some patients may need to have their teeth cleaned every year, while others may go two, three, or even five years without needing a dental procedure. We don't know why some pets have chronic teeth problems and some seem to have none at all. Genetics is considered a contributing factor to chronic periodontal disease, but there may be other factors that we just haven't discovered yet.

For all dental procedures, patients must be anesthetized. No cat or dog, no matter how good they are, will simply lay on a table and allow their teeth to be scaled, probed, and extracted without sedation. In older pets, blood work should be performed to check the liver and kidney values as well as a complete blood count. While undergoing a dental procedure, the veterinarian may discover a tooth that looks like it might have a rotten root, but he or she can't be sure. In this case the doctor will take a dental x-ray determine the integrity of the tooth's root or roots. If the roots look OK on x-ray, he or she will most likely inject an antibiotic gel into the area surrounding the tooth. This will help to slow the tooth decay. If the roots do not look good, the doctor will then go ahead and do an extraction. Pain medication is administered for any extraction in the form of a local anesthetic as well as an injectable medication. Your veterinarian will also prescribe pain medication to take home as well as antibiotics to help prevent an infection.

An important step also performed during the dental procedure is a complete oral exam. Your veterinarian will not only examine your pets teeth, but do a thorough examination of their gums and mouth. Small growths can form in the mouth and cause problems for your pet. Sometimes these can be benign or malignant, but it is important to check because otherwise it might not be found. If you feel a bump on your dog's leg, you can ask your vet about it. But how many of us would know if a bump was forming in their mouth? An oral exam can make sure your pet's mouth is free of anything that may cause problems, benign or malignant.

Taking care of our pets teeth is an important step in keeping them healthy and happy. Many pets may suffer from aches and pains due to their teeth that can be easily fixed. Keeping their teeth clean can also help prevent diseases such as tonsillitis, pharyngitis, as well as kidney, liver, and heart problems. If you have more questions about periodontal disease or care for your pets teeth, contact your veterinarian or give us a call at 508-394-3566.