Wednesday, Feb. 2nd 2011

Dental health

Veterinary Alternatives February 2011 Newsletter


My, this year is going fast!  Hope you are all staying dug out and warm!  Remember if your pet has slipped on the ice and is now limping, give me a call and we’ll check it out.


Dental Health Issue

I seem to recall that February is Veterinary Dental Health month.  I could be wrong.  But I decided to dedicate this entire issue to our pet’s teeth anyway.


Are My Pet’s Teeth Dirty?

Probably.  No, seriously, to evaluate the health of your pet’s mouth (dog or cat), here are a few things you can evaluate.  Yes, you’ll have to lift those puppy lips to see.  Look quick if you have a cat.

1.        Odor—does your pet have bad breath?  If it smells like anything but the most recent meal your pet ate, there may be a problem.  Foul mouth odor is usually related to dental disease and gingivitis (gum inflammation) but can also be from infections or tumors in the mouth.  If you have any doubts, have your vet check it out.

2.       Tartar and Calculus—this is the brownish or grayish buildup on the teeth.  Pets are supposed to have nice white, shiny teeth like ours (at least I hope yours are).  If there is brown staining or chunky gray buildup, they need their teeth cleaned!  Look for this near the gum line, especially on the back premolar and molar teeth—the big ones in the back, used for tearing meat.  When severe, it actually calcifies into hard chunks.

3.       Pus—yes, you may see this in your pet’s mouth, especially if they have gingivitis or severe tartar buildup.  Usually yellow or greenish, you may see it seeping from the gums.  This needs attention ASAP, and the tooth may need to be pulled or have a root canal.

4.       Broken teeth—if the pulp cavity is exposed, it will look like a brown dot or streak in the center of the broken area.  If you see this, again, the tooth should be pulled or have a root canal.  Not only is the nerve exposed, which can be painful, but the tooth is at risk of infection traveling to the root and causing an abscess, which is even more painful.

5.       Gingivitis—look at the gums right next to the teeth.  The color should be a nice even pink from there all the way to where the lip joins the gums.  If it is darker and red near the teeth, especially if you see swelling, your pet has gingivitis.  This can lead to gum recession and tooth loosening, which can make eating difficult and cause weight loss.  Keeping teeth clean will resolve this problem.


Why Does it Matter?

Poor dental health is more than just a cosmetic problem.  Foul mouth odor can contribute to being pushed away from affection by the family, thus damaging the pet-owner bond.  Bacteria can collect in the calculus deposits, travel from there into the bloodstream when the inflamed gums (gingivitis) bleed during meals, and settle in the organs.  This can result in heart disease, kidney infections, liver abscesses, and septicemia (blood infection).  These are life threatening conditions.  Poor dental health is poor pet health.  Abscessed teeth can actually cause facial bone infections, and the infection can eat through the bone into the sinuses or even to the outside of the face, causing draining tracts along the side of the nose.  Some abscesses will even locate behind the eye socket, threatening eyesight.  Do NOT ignore your pet’s bad teeth!

 Oh Dear! What Do I Do Now?

Luckily, most pets just need a good dental scaling and polishing under anesthesia to get them back on track.  Some may need teeth pulled, antibiotics, root canals, or other more involved work.  Your dentist can help you determine the best course of action for your pet.  Be sure to have bloodwork done before the anesthesia, if your vet gives you the option.  That way you can make sure your pet is healthy enough to minimize risk while they are anesthetized.  Older pets in particular should have a full blood chemistry panel done every year to keep tabs on organ function and catch problems before your pet gets really sick.

 After your pet’s teeth have been professionally cleaned, you can maintain their new whiteness in several ways.

1.        Brushing using a toothpaste developed for pets (ours can make them sick).  This should be done at least 3 times weekly, preferably every day.  However, what do you do if your pet doesn’t like this process, or you can’t seem to find the time?

2.       Bones.  Yes, I know your regular vet has probably told you to avoid them.  Yes, chewing bones does run a slight risk of breaking your pet’s teeth, and improperly chosen bones can be swallowed (and get stuck) or lodge around your pet’s jaw or in their mouth.  So choose them carefully.  They should be RAW, not cooked.  While raw beef bones are enjoyed by many dogs, they run the greater risk of the above complications so be careful about which ones you use.  I prefer raw chicken bones (they don’t splinter like cooked ones, so are safe) in the form of wings, necks, or backs depending on the size of the pet.  Both cats and dogs will enjoy these, and you don’t need to remove meat—they like that, too!  Use just the wingtip or two smaller sections of chicken wings for cats.  My dogs enjoy part or all of a whole chicken back for dinner now and again.  They will completely consume what you give them, some dogs in a matter of 10 minutes.  They digest the bones just fine.  If your pet is not used to raw meat in the diet, introduce this in small amounts at first.  Giving raw chicken on the bone once or twice a week will do wonders at keeping your pet’s teeth healthy and beautiful.  They may be a bit reluctant at first, but by the second or third time, they will usually snatch their treat and work uninterrupted until it is gone.  Outside is a good place for this activity, or possibly in a kennel with bedding removed, as it can be a little messy.  If your dog can’t have chicken, try turkey necks or wings. If you have concerns about salmonella, you can dip the chicken parts in boiling water for about 10 seconds, enough to scald the surface but not cook the bones.  Wear gloves and a mask and avoid accepting doggie kisses for a few hours if you have health issues which cause concerns about your immune system, or ask your doctor first.

3.       Greenies are treats marketed to keep teeth clean.  My dogs love their morning after-breakfast Greenies, and I think they are partially effective, but not as good as the bones.  So I use both.

4.       T/D from Science Diet is also marketed to clean teeth.  I think they’re OK as a treat, maybe after meals, but don’t rely on them as your sole method for dental health.  You’ll be disappointed.

5.       Various chlorhexidine or fluoride rinses.  You can try these, but I’m not a big fan of exposing our pets to more chemicals.  Very few pets enjoy these products, so you may have a bit of a fight on your hands.  If you want to use them, try just a little squirt on the toothbrush when you brush—I think you’ll see better results and more compliance by your pet.  Remember to use lots of praise so it’s a positive experience!


I hope this information helps you determine if your pet’s teeth need attention and if so which direction to go with it.  I know everyone has concerns about anesthesia, but your veterinarian will make it as safe as possible for your pet, and if your pet is simply too sick to tolerate it they WILL tell you.  No vet wants their patient to die under anesthesia!  They will do everything they can to make it safe, and you should follow their recommendations as far as pre-anesthesia testing and surgical monitoring.  Don’t forget to say “yes” to pain medications if teeth are to be pulled!  You can also give homeopathic Arnica Montana (2-5 pellets just tossed in a clean mouth) before they go in, and a couple times a day after they come home for the first 3 days, to minimize swelling and pain.  This is safe even if they are receiving other medications.  I recommend it for people having dental procedures as well!


Last tidbit:  The AVMA has developed a new website to help people find veterinarians in certain areas or offering specific services.  I’ve registered Veterinary Alternatives with the site—it may take a few days for it to pop up on searches.  The site is called and is very easy to use.

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