That is an excellent question, especially since dogs and cats do not get tooth decay the way we humans do. Then what’s all this commotion about tooth brushing?
Perhaps more than we humans, dogs and cats are subject to periodontal disease, also called gum disease. Infections build up between the tooth and the gum causing the gums to turn bright pink or red and even to bleed.
Since this is rarely a painful condition, why be concerned?
There are two reasons. The first is this can lead to tooth loss; the second is that it can lead to much more serious health issues.
Dogs’ and cats’ mouths, just like ours, produce a gooey substance called plaque which when hardened is called tartar. The plaque is a wonderful medium for bacteria to set up housekeeping (think of what goes into your pet’s mouth every day). Like any bacterial infection, the surrounding area becomes inflamed, sore and weakened. If the periodontal muscle holding in a particular tooth is too weak to hold the tooth in place, the tooth will either fall out or have to be removed to in order to address the infection.
Losing teeth isn’t a, ummm, picnic. Worse, however, researchers report that, like in humans, the bacterial infection can travel through the pet’s bloodstream and lodge in the kidneys, liver and especially in the heart causing serious problems.
Recognizing gum disease in your dog’s or cat’s mouth
Bad or foul breath
Red, swollen gum
Loose or missing teeth
Extra time eating
Loss of appetite
Obviously, any of these symptoms say, “Vet visit time.”
As you probably know, “dental” is a veterinary specialty practiced by some family vets. Others have either a visiting dental vet or will refer you out. In any case, know that periodontal disease is more than just cosmetic, in time, it can lead to life threatening side effects and, minimally, tooth loss.
Dr. Chris at North Slope Veterinary reports that he has known dogs from puppyhood to end game who have never developed dental problems even though they never had professional cleanings or daily home brushings. He has seen may little dogs with horrible teeth. Ironically, youngish (3-4 year old Yorkies) often have worse dental problems than old labs or retrievers. Many big dogs go their whole life with 1 (or zero) cleanings. Little dogs generally need then regularly. Whether it’s genetics or the fact that large dogs are stronger chewers, no one knows. Puppy mill dogs have the worst teeth and that’s easy to understand from the diet they most likely had when their teeth were being formed.
At your pet’s annual check up your vet will, of course, check his teeth and discuss whether a professional cleaning is warranted. There are many things you can do to prevent or at least lessen gum problems, including home brushing, diet and treats. We will next go in depth into how you can prevent, or at least mitigate the problem in our next blog.