Carsten column: Oral health is essential for quality of life for pets
Integrative Pet Vet
February has been designated as National Pet Dental Health Month to help draw attention to the importance of dental health care for our pet companions.
It has long been clear that there is a connection between the health of the mouth and the health of the rest of the body. Dental disease starts early in life for pets with the majority of dogs and cats having some degree of dental disease by the time they are three years old. Ongoing dental disease can contribute to mouth discomfort and stress on organs like the heart, liver and kidneys. This means that dental checkups and care are important important all year. Monitoring and preventive care should start early in life.
It is often bad breath and build up of hard calculi material on the teeth that brings attention to the mouth. These changes are often just what is seen on the surface with more serious conditions becoming apparent with a deeper look. Indication that there are more problems include a pet with abnormal chewing, food dropping from the mouth when eating, drooling, reduced or no appetite, swelling in the mouth or face, bleeding from the mouth, or pain in or around the mouth.
One goal of preventive dental care is to avoid more serious problems by addressing issues early. Regular dental exams along with regular dental cleanings are an important part of any preventive program. Ideally, daily teeth brushing with a pet appropriate toothpaste occurs as a way to reduce the plaque on the teeth. Unfortunately not all pets will allow teeth brushing.
Other options for attempting to reduce plaque accumulation include dental foods, dental treats and chews, oral sprays, and additives in the food or water. Products that have been approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) can be found on their website. Strategies for reducing plaque and maintaining healthy gums vary by product. Some focus on reducing bacteria levels in the mouth or altering the biofilm on the teeth. Others mechanically “scrape” across the tooth during chewing in a way that helps reduce plaque.
There are some products that are a combination of these approaches. For example, products like soft rawhide and vegetable based chews containing enzymes, antimicrobials, and antioxidants combined with special shapes to increase plaque reduction when chewed are available. Keep in mind that not all effective products are listed on this VOHC website. For example, a controlled study evaluating a green tea product added to the daily water showed efficacy in reducing plaque.
Some online sources advocate the use of natural products like deer antlers, rawhide, bones and bully sticks. It is important to recognize that some of these hard products, like bone and antlers, can cause tooth fractures and other trauma to teeth when chewed. Tooth fractures can lead to pain, infections, and often extraction of the tooth. It is important to note that fractured teeth have been reported to occur in nearly 50% of pets at some time in their life. Depending on the extent of damage to the tooth, a root canal and restorative procedures can be done to save the tooth, but not all damaged teeth can be saved. So consider avoiding hard products or at least be aware of the potential problems so that careful monitoring can be regularly done. Concerns with rawhide include how free of contamination the product is and the potential that the pet could swallow pieces of the rawhide leading to digestive distress.
Regular dental cleanings under anesthesia should be anticipated over the life time of all pets. Some pets like small breed dogs typically require more frequent cleanings than large breed dogs because of the structure of their mouths. Dental x-rays can be essential when assessing the overall health of the mouth. In some studies it has been found that almost 28% of dogs and 42% of cats had diseased teeth seen on x-ray of teeth that appeared normal above the gum line. In pets with teeth that appear abnormal above the gum line there was an additional 50% more teeth in dogs and 53% more teeth in cats that were found to be abnormal with x-ray.
In addition to regular dental cleanings, daily or every other day brushing is valuable along with the use of products that reduce plaque accumulation and maintain overall oral health. If you have questions about your pet companion’s oral health, contact your veterinarian.
Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. He is also the founder of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE). In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs. Dr. Carsten is the 2022 Colorado Veterinary Medical Association Distinguished Service Award recipient.
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