The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 16, 2007


Watch your (pet's) mouth: pet dentistry

Bad breath is not normal for a dog or cat. It indicates the presence of dental disease, which could lead to heart problems.

Most of us understand the importance of good oral health for ourselves and visit our dentist at least twice a year, but only a small percentage of people would do the same for their pets. Studies in human dentistry and medicine have suggested an association between heart disease and dental disease. Is this true for our pets as well?

In a recent nationwide veterinary study, more than 45,000 cases of dogs with serious dental disease were reviewed. These dogs were compared with another 45,000 dogs of similar gender, age and breed that did not have any dental disease. Their report shows that there appears to be a strong association between the health of your pet's mouth and the incidence of other health issues, such as heart murmurs or even infection of the lining of the heart. This month, one of my own patients, a middle-aged cat, died from complications related to heart failure. At the autopsy, the cat was found to have had vegetative endocarditis, which occurs when infection enters the blood from untreated dental disease and seeds the heart valves.

Pets' teeth need brushing too

Dental care of dogs and cats is one of the most commonly overlooked areas of pet health care. A recent American Animal Hospital Association report on compliance within veterinary practices showed that fewer than 35% of pets who need a dental cleaning ever receive one. The reasons for this level of non-compliance are many, but often pet owners report that they just didn't know their pets needed dental work or even that their pets suffered from periodontal disease. Some people feel the recommendation for a cleaning is for cosmetic purposes. Nothing could be further from the truth: a mouth infection caused by poor dental care puts your dog or cat at high risk.

Periodontal disease starts the same way in people and pets, when food particles, saliva and bacteria attached to the teeth produce plaque. If plaque is not disrupted, calculus, or tartar, forms. The calculus makes the surface of the tooth rough, providing a better hold for more bacteria. These bacteria will then infect the gums, causing a condition known as gingivitis. If not treated appropriately, gingivitis can progress into periodontal disease, destroying the bone that supports the tooth. The same bacteria that cause dental disease have been found in the hearts of dogs with heart disease.

To prevent dental problems from becoming a serious health issue, veterinarians recommend starting oral health care early. Your new puppy or kitten should become comfortable with your examining its mouth. Early training will help the pet to learn to tolerate brushing and other preventive measures and will help you recognize abnormalities. Simple awareness of the health of your pet's mouth can help you to provide better health care for your pet. As your pet ages, a weekly check of the mouth may also help to find issues before they become dangerous.You should take time to look for plaque and tartar, especially on the large canine teeth in the front of the mouth and the big shearing teeth in the back.

Sweet-smelling breath

In addition to using your eyes, your nose can be an important tool as well. Pets are not supposed to have bad breath. If you can detect foul odor or if you see any problems in your pet's mouth, your pet should be seen by your veterinarian. What you see on the crown (the visible portion) of the tooth is only a fraction of the disease that is also lurking in the gums.

Daily oral care is an extremely important part of pet care. Just as you care for your teeth daily, you should do so for your pets. Although daily brushing is ideal, many people just don't have the energy. I can relate to that after brushing my own teeth and then those of three small children twice daily! Some pets are difficult to handle, which makes brushing even harder. If brushing is out, consider daily oral rinses, daily rawhide chews impregnated with pet toothpaste, a weekly oral gel that can be applied in place of brushing, or adding a tasteless, odorless plaque-attacking solution to your pet's drinking water. In addition to establishing a daily oral care routine for your pet, make sure to follow your veterinarian's recommendations and get professional dental cleanings in the veterinary hospital when they are needed.

Dr. Tiffany J. Rule lives in Carlisle and is a veterinarian at Countryside Veterinary Hospital. She can be reached at

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito