Does your pet have bad breath?
Ever had the experience where your beloved pet races up to see you in an excited frenzy trying to be as close to you as possible? The only thingmaking this situation awkward is the extremely bad odor that is coming from your pet’s mouth. A common misunderstanding is that our pets have bad breath because of the things they eat or the other behaviors (licking etc.) they display. Our pets are never going to have minty fresh breath, but their breath should certainly never be offensive. Bad breath or “halitosis” is caused by a number of different things, but most commonly it is due to the buildup of plaque and tartar along the teeth and gum line. The buildup of these materials is not only causing bad breath but it is also causing periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is the number one medical problem in our pets over the age of 7, and left untreated, leads to tooth decay and recession of the gum line. In severe cases, bacteria harboring in the gingival tissue, can enter the blood stream and be a source of infection in the heart or kidneys. As the periodontal disease progresses so does the amount of discomfort in our pet’s mouths. Most of us can relate to the pain that is associated with a broken or infected tooth. Our pets feel the same pain, the problem is they don’ have a way to let us know they are hurting. I can remember numerous times when owners would come back into our practice a week after their pet had dental work to let us know how amazed they were at the difference in their pet’s attitude and demeanor.
There are certain things that predispose our pets to getting dental disease. Small breed dogs and dogs that have flat faces (brachycephalic) are way more prone to getting periodontal disease. The main reasons are that their teeth are crowded in their mouth and as a general rule they live longer than the large or giant breed dogs. This gives them more of an opportunity to have advanced periodontal disease. Small breed dogs are also not known as being great chewers, so they don’t have the natural mechanical breakdown of plaque and tartar. Large breed dogs can certainly develop periodontal disease and are more prone to fractured teeth because most of these dogs love to chew on, things….. often times things they are not suppose to be chewing on but that is a topic for another day. Soft food diets are also a concern in developing periodontal disease. Hard foods must be chewed and the process of chewing the hard kibble acts like a tooth pick to break down the tartar and plaque. As our pets get older the need for dental care increases. This makes sense because with each passing year there is more and more build-up of plaque and tartar on our animals teeth. Any pet that is over 7 years of age, is considered to be at a greater risk for periodontal disease.
As we have briefly discussed above, it can be challenging to know the extent of our pets dental issues. The number one sign is bad breath, but that may only be the beginning. Animals that have severe periodontal disease may drool more than normal, paw at their face, or simply stop eating. We have had several cases in our hospital of pets that stopped eating all together or would only eat soft foods. When they were brought in for evaluation, we found either severe periodontal disease or fractured teeth. These cases are however the extreme, as 95% of the dental cleanings performed in our hospital are on animals that have mild to moderate periodontal disease. A good oral exam performed by your veterinarian is the best way to assess your pet’s oral health. Regular exams allow problems to be identified early on and hopefully treated with much less stress/pain to the patient and cost to you the owner.
The old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is absolutely right. Preventing periodontal disease starts at home. We have already discussed feeding a hard kibble as part of your pet’s diet. There are numerous dental treats on the market that are designed to help with the mechanical breakdown of plaque and tartar. Other options include in home mouth rinses and dental chews that contain chlorhexidine to fight the bacteria that produce the tartar. The best in home prevention is still “simply” brushing your dog’s teeth. I put simply in quotation marks because for any of us that have tried this, it can be a challenge. It is always best to start when your pets are young. They become familiar to the process and do not resist. I can honestly say that in our practice the owners who brush their dog’s teeth 2 to 3 times per week, their dogs have significantly less periodontal disease. Your pets will need to have a dental cleaning by a veterinarian at some point in their life. The process is very similar to human dental cleaning. Veterinarians use an ultrasonic scaler to remove the plaque and tartar above and below the gum line and then the teeth are polished and treated with fluoride. The average patient has their teeth cleaned once every two years after the age of 7. The bottom line is that our pets need to have their teeth checked on a routine basis so that you and your veterinarian can stay on top of your pets dental needs.
Ryan Royse DVM
Argyle Veterinary Hospital
Argyle, TX 76262