Periodontal disease – the “silent killer”
You may or may not know that the number one health problem we see in pets is periodontal disease. Estimates of disease occurence state that by 2 years old , 70% cats and 80% dogs have clinical signs. Small and short-nosed (bracycephalic) breeds of dogs are susceptible because of the overcrowding of their teeth in their small jaws.
Clinical signs are subtle and your pet will still eat ! You may notice stinky breath (halitosis) ,red or bleeding gums (gingivitis) and the presence of a brown deposit on the teeth called tartar. Plaque is invisible unless stained and tartar is mineralised plaque. Many pets appear unaffected by this, but if left ,gingivitis spreads below the gumline affecting the teeth attachment to the jawbone: the periodontal ligament and the bone itself. Eventually this leads to loose and wobbly teeth. X-rays can reveal the hidden disease below the gum.
See the photo below of a dog’s lower jaw. The big tooth is the first molar or one of a pair of carnassials teeth used for slicing and dicing food. The amount of tartar present is small with a red gum. The x-ray of the same area shows the extent of the bone loss. Healthy teeth should have bone right up to the neck of the tooth. Here it is halfway or more down the roots showing advanced periodontal disease.
The real crunch is its not just dirty teeth that affects your pets’ health. The bacteria in the plaque and tartar spreads via the bloodstream and can cause infections in the heart, liver and kidneys to name a few. And having periodontal disease shortens lives.
An American client I had kept Chihuahuas all her life and said they all lived for 16-18years or more which I thought was older than the average in my experience. She believed this was because she looked after their dental health with annual dental cleans and yes, there is plenty of scientific evidence to support this.
So what can you do? Periodontal disease is inevitable, a bit like ageing ! Prevention is the key and there are lots of effective products on the market that will help. For best results, teeth should be clean to start with.
Tooth brushing is the best, the cheapest but more time consuming . While it is great to train a puppy or co-operative dog to sit still while brushing, not all will agree. Cats are a challenge ! We have a good handout from Fraser Hale, an American pet dentist on brushing so please ask .
The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC ) has many tried and tested products on their website . These approved chews, diets and mouthwashes do what it says on the label. We stock greenies , veggiedents and Hills t/d/ You can see the full range on the website and see what your pet prefers . Some products are available at pet stores as well as vets. Not all products are available in New Zealand. Products that control plaque are better than those that control tartar only as tartar presence is not always the cause of gum disease.
And remember that the vet and vet nurses here are happy to help with a dental examination and assessment of your pets teeth !