Caring for Your Pets’ Teeth and Gums

Why You Need to Look After Their Teeth and Gums

Veterinarians say about two-thirds of pet owners don’t comply with the recommended dental treatment for their dogs and cats, the two most popular pet animals in homes. But if people knew the implications that teeth and gum diseases bring, they’d give their pets’ oral care a serious second thought.

Teeth and gum diseases of your pets can lead to serious illnesses in other organs of the body that may be fatal if left unattended. Chronic oral infections affect the general health and cause sickness of the liver, heart, lungs and kidneys. But preventive actions and regular care can protect them from having these conditions and help them enjoy longer, healthier lives.

Common Dental Conditions in Cats and Dogs: What Causes Them and How to Detect Them

Problems of the teeth and gums usually occur by the age of 2-3 years. Here are some of the common conditions that afflict our furry friends and the signs that show you how to detect them.

1. Gingivitis

When you see mild redness in the gums of your pet, don’t ignore it. This is a sign of gingivitis, or gum inflammation. Inflammation of the gums in its early stage is easily reversible when you take immediate corrective measures. Aside from redness, there is some plaque but the gum surface is smooth. Plaque is the leading cause of gingivitis. It occurs when food debris collects in the mouth and mixes with saliva, dead cells and mucus, turning the area into a rich breeding ground for bacteria. Bad breath and slight swelling of the gums are other signs of gingivitis.

2. Periodontal Disease

Untended gingivitis worsens and turns into periodontal disease. Plaque hardens, forms into tartar and creates gingival pockets (narrow spaces between the gums and teeth). These pockets allow the bacteria to penetrate deeper into the gums, thereby aggravating the redness, swelling and bleeding. Eventually the gums recede, tissues are destroyed and teeth become loose, putting them in danger of falling out.

With periodontal disease, your pet feels the pain and has difficulty eating and chewing. The breath smells bad and there is blood in the mouth coming from the gums. Teeth are loose. The worst happens when bacterial infection penetrates the membranes, go into the blood stream and travel to the other parts of the body, causing systemic illnesses of the vital organs.

3. Stomatitis

Chronic Ulcerative Paradental Stomatitis (CUPS), or simply called stomatitis, is a condition that occurs when your cat or dog develops a severe reaction to the plaque on the tooth surfaces. Stomatitis are raised, ulcerative lesions forming on the tissues around the teeth and covered with soft, milky plaque. It can cause inflammation of the throat and the palate and there is accompanying loss of appetite, tremendous amount of saliva, bleeding, mouth sensitivity, severe halitosis or bad breath and weight loss.

Most often, stomatitis is a result of untreated gingivitis or periodontal disease.

4. Baby Teeth

Cats and dogs have baby teeth, too, just like humans. They fall out and are replaced by adult permanent teeth. In dogs, the adult teeth are usually all in place at 7 – 8 months of age and in cats, baby teeth are typically replaced completely by 4 months of age. Retained baby teeth can cause a problem when the adult teeth come out. They can cause overcrowding, the adult tooth may come out crooked and result in an incorrect bite and plaque is quicker to develop and build up. It is easy to spot retained baby teeth. There are two teeth occupying one place; one of them is the baby tooth and the other is the adult tooth trying to come out. A veterinarian can best determine the condition and pull out the baby tooth to make way for the permanent one to erupt.

5. Tooth Root Abscess

A tooth root abscess is an infection that occurs in the root of your pet’s tooth. It is characterized by pain and the presence of pus but most pet owners will not be able to see the pus. Outward symptoms include loss of appetite, difficulty in eating and facial swelling as the abscess develops. The animal may paw at the site or rub its face on the ground, often leading you to think it is an itch.

An abscess is generally caused by two conditions: presence of periodontal disease and tooth traumatic injury or crack. In periodontal disease, the enlarged pockets allow food debris and bacteria to accumulate inside and form an abscess while a broken or cracked tooth exposes the tissues under the enamel, giving entry to the bacteria that cause the abscess.

How to Prevent Dental Diseases in Your Pets

As the saying goes, prevention is always better than cure. You can help avoid these common dental conditions from affecting your pets and keeping them healthy and comfortable. At home, you can brush their teeth once a day or even just three times a week to complement the professional cleaning of a veterinarian which can be done annually.

Brushing can be done by using a brush or wrapping your finger in a gauze pad and tilting it at a 45-degree angle, moving the finger in a circular motion and covering all areas if possible. There are special veterinary toothpaste, antibacterial mouthwash and rawhide chew strips you can buy at the vet’s clinic. These products lessen plaque buildup and can go a long way to maintaining their oral wellness.

Give your pet nontoxic toys that they can chew on to massage their gums and serve as an outlet for their stress and boredom. Again, your vet is your best adviser on these toys.

Home care for dental health is always helpful. But professional cleaning and brushing is necessary and cannot be undertaken by you alone. A comprehensive checkup involves x-rays for diagnoses and anesthesia for total cleaning. Take care of your pets. They may not be much help around the house but the joy and merriment they bring is worth much more than the money you spend for their care.

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