Dental Health for Your Pet

Posted on February 18, 2016

At Fall Creek VMC we commonly get asked questions about what pet owners can do to clean their petsí teeth at home. Before this question can be addressed, it is important to know that by taking prophylactic measures at home to clean teeth, and by doing routine oral cleanings under anesthesia, we are working to eliminate periodontal disease, so called ďperiodontitisĒ. This is the number one oral disease in dogs and cats, the end-stage of which is loss of teeth. Periodontal disease is disease of all of the structures of the periodontium, a collective group of anatomical structures that includes the teeth, the bones of the jaws that hold the teeth, the periodontal ligaments (which help hold the tooth roots in place), and the gums. The root of all periodontal disease (pun intended) is the buildup of dental plaque and subsequent dental calculus. Plaque is the grey-brown accumulation of bacteria, salivary glycoproteins, lipid, carbohydrates, and inorganic minerals (calcium carbonate, phosphates). Once this material mineralizes it is known as dental calculus. This material adheres to the teeth and must be mechanically removed. The buildup of plaque and calculus results in the gum disease gingivitis and eventually gingival recession, a painful process by which the gums recede and expose the sensitive roots of the teeth. This is a self-perpetuating process that can be very painful and affect your petís overall health.

It is important to realize that by taking prophylactic measures at home, we are not going to completely prevent the inevitable buildup of dental plaque and calculus. Instead, our goal is to minimize the rate at which it accumulates, and thereby reduce the number of anesthetic events required to clean the teeth on a regular basis. The rate at which dental tartar and plaque accumulate on our petís teeth is dependent on several factors. In dogs, the size of the animal has as much to do with the rate of accumulation as much as anything, as smaller breeds typically accumulate tartar faster than larger breeds. Dachshunds, Yorkies, Shih-Tzus, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, and Miniature Pinschers seem to build up residues the fastest. There are many options available for home dental care for both cats and dogs that we may provide to our pets. Any of these may be used alone or in combination with other measures. We typically recommend products that are approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). This is a panel of veterinarians that rate products based on their efficacy, active ingredients, and margin of safety related to their regular use. The best measures that we can take include daily teeth brushing, enzyme-impregnated rawhide chews, regular application of gingival antimicrobial solutions, prescription dental diets, and oral rinses that can be added to the water bowl. Products approved by the VOHC can be found at the following link: