by Amanda Marcum, CVT
Every February, television, magazines, and social media outlets are peppered with stories about the importance of good oral heath for our pets. While it's great for this issue to be highlighted, oral health is serious enough that it should be on your mind year round.
Dogs and cats, like us, form plaque on their teeth on a daily basis. This film of bacteria can be easily removed by daily brushing, or by using products carrying the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) Seal of Acceptance. If left in place, plaque mixes with minerals in saliva, and forms a hard layer of tartar. Once tartar is established, it can no longer be removed by home products. If your curious to see if you pet has tartar accumulation, lift the top lip along the side of your pets mouth (only do this if you can do so safely!). If you see brown build-up where a white tooth should be, your pet has tartar. Bad breath is another common indicator of tartar build-up. Once plaque and tartar take hold, they start to develop under the gumline. This leads to red and inflamed gums, also called gingivitis. From there, the gums begin to recede, causing root exposure, loosening or falling out of teeth, and eventually bone loss in the jaw itself.
Animals are very good at masking pain, and since severe tartar build-up comes on slowly, many owners don't even notice the subtle changes in their pets behavior caused by dental disease. These behaviors may include a decrease in appetite, dropping kibble, no longer chewing on toys, decreased activity, and pawing at or rubbing the face.
Keeping up with good oral heath practices at home is an important part to maintaining your pets overall well-being. And if your pet already has dental disease, all is not lost. Your veterinarian will help you decide what steps are needed to get your companion back to good dental health.