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DENTAL AND ORAL SURGERY FOR PETS

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DENTAL CARE FOR YOUR PET
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20pixelgif.gif (808 bytes)A healthy dog's mouth, showing well-maintained teeth.
Introduction
Most people are very aware of their own teeth. We know about plaque control, cavity prevention and the social evils of bad breath. Most people also visit their dentist regularly. Despite this awareness of human dentistry, many pet owners do not realize their animals are subject to the same problems.

Why care for your pet’s teeth?
For the same reason you care for your own. The most common disease in pet animals is periodontal disease. They are also subject to broken teeth, orthodontic problems and even cavities. All of these problems will affect your animal’s mouth, obviously, but can also lead to the infections that introduce bacteria into other parts of the body. In other words, bad teeth can lead to a sick animal. Evidence continues to mount that chronic infection or inflammation in any part of the body can have serious negative impact on systemic health.

Do cats and dogs feel pain like us?
Many owners tell us that they did not notice any change in their animal’s behaviour, so they assumed they were fine. This isn’t surprising. Our pets are ultimately descended from wild animals. It does a wild animal no good to advertise the fact that it is sick, or to stop eating because its teeth hurt. Most animals simply adopt a stoic attitude to chronic pain. But if you’ve ever had a chronic tooth ache, you know the meaning of pain. Studies have shown that dogs and cats have pain thresholds that are almost identical to humans.

What can you do about your pet’s oral or dental health?
Plenty. The first step is to look in your pet’s mouth, on a regular basis. If the gums appear red or inflamed, if there’s a foul odour, if you see pus at the gum line or broken teeth – see your veterinarian right away. He or she will assess the problem and formulate a treatment plan.

The longer term solution is to look after your pet’s teeth with regular brushing and checking – just like you do with your own.


 

A client education sheet on this subject can be found by clicking here.

And a great deal more information is available at HomeCarePack

Another important topic is covered in You can't prevent disease that is already established.

Guidelines for home dental care

Dental homecare is preventative maintenance. It can not correct a problem once one has developed. Moreover, if there is a painful condition in the mouth, brushing will be very unpleasant for the animal and we do not want that. Therefore, a homecare program should only be started after a very thorough oral evaluation to ensure that there are no problems that need treatment prior to starting brushing.

The goal with a homecare program is to be brushing your pet’s teeth on a daily basis to remove plaque before it becomes firmly attached to the tooth surface and before it mineralizes to become tartar. Plaque will form on a clean tooth within hours and can start to form tartar within a few days. Therefore brushing daily will be far more effective than doing it two or three times a week. Doing it less than every other day actually provides no benefit.

When starting a homecare program, it is important to start slowly, letting your pet get use to each new phase before moving to the next. By introducing the program in small, easy to accept steps, and by including lots of positive reinforcement, most pets will come to truly enjoy having their teeth brushed. This is neither a contest nor a race. Take it as slowly as necessary to avoid upsetting your pet, because once they decide they do not like what you are doing, it will take a long time to overcome that.

Here are eight steps you can take to help maintain your pet’s dental health.


20pixelgif.gif (808 bytes)Start by handling the muzzle and tickling your pet’s teeth.


20pixelgif.gif (808 bytes)Get them used to your hands in their mouth by rubbing their gums with your fingers.


20pixelgif.gif (808 bytes)Now you’re ready to try brushing the outside of their front  teeth. Toothpaste is not strictly required – the brushing does most of the cleaning.


20pixelgif.gif (808 bytes)When your pet is really comfortable, you’ll be able to brush the outsides of their back teeth as well.


20pixelgif.gif (808 bytes)And don’t forget a little reward for your pet after every dental care session.

(Thanks to Molly for consenting to model for these photos.)

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Step 1

When to start? As soon as possible. Eight to 12 weeks old is best. Pets don’t need maintenance this young, but by brushing the baby teeth they will become familiar with the routine when the permanent teeth erupt. It is a good idea to stop brushing while your pet is losing its baby teeth as the mouth will be a bit sore and your poking around with the brush will cause more pain. Once all the permanent teeth are in you can pick up where you left off.

Step 2
The first step is to work with your pet’s mouth. With a little patience your pet will soon accept your attention. Make it fun for both of you. Use a lot of love and especially praise to gain their confidence. Try to have your practice sessions at the same time each day so your pet gets into a routine. Late in the evening often works well, as everyone involved is generally in a quiet mood then. If your pet is highly motivated by food, try just before dinner with the meal acting as a reward for co-operating.

Step 3
Start by handling the muzzle and tickling the lips and soon you will be able to rub the teeth and gums with your finger. Put a few drops of water, flavoured with garlic or garlic salt for dogs and tuna juice for cats, in the mouth daily. They will soon look forward to this treat.

Step 4
Next, use a washcloth or piece of pantyhose, wrapped around the end of your finger and flavoured as above, to gently rub the teeth. Start with the front teeth and gradually work towards the back teeth.

Step 5
Finally, use a soft toothbrush to brush the teeth. There are several veterinary brushes available and many human brushes are well suited to animal use as well. Hold the brush at a 45 degree angle to the tooth and brush back and forth or from gum to tip. Brushing the tongue side of the teeth is less critical. Use the garlic water or tuna juice. Make it a game.

Step 6
There is an ever growing selection of veterinary tooth washes, pastes and gels. Your veterinarian can help you select the one best suited to your situation. Some of these products may increase the effectiveness of your home-care program but remember, it’s the brushing that does most of the cleaning. In fact, many veterinary home care products currently on the market have no valid research to show that they are of any benefit. Visit www.vohc.org for a current list of products with valid claims.

Brushing daily has been shown to be far more effective than three times a week and is easier to remember than every other day. Human tooth paste is to be avoided as it will cause stomach upset if swallowed. Baking soda, with its very high sodium content can be dangerous to older patients. Hydrogen peroxide can be too harsh for the gums and must not be swallowed.

Step 7
It helps to give mildly abrasive foods and toys such as dry kibble, raw hide strips and dense rubber chew-toys. The Veterinary Oral Health Council has undertaken to certify products that make claims of providing some dental benefit. The list grows as more companies make the responsible decision to obtain valid evidence that their products work. Visit www.vohc.org for the current list and always favour products with a plaque claim over those that just have a tartar claim. Avoid natural bones, antlers (which are actually bone), dried cow hooves and hard nylon toys, ice cubes as these are hard enough to fracture teeth. If you (or your pet) would not want to be hit in the knee-cap with the item, do not let them chew on it!

Step 8
By following a consistent program of home-care, you will greatly improve you pet’s dental health. This will mean fewer professional cleanings, less tooth loss and a happier, healthier pet. However, please remember that there is no substitute for professional veterinary care. We must work as a team to ensure a long and happy life for your pet.

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Much more on Home Care

If you want (and you should) more information, this package of articles will be helpful.

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