Many of you may wonder why an entire month is dedicated to oral health in our pets. It seems that not too long ago, healthy teeth and gums was never even discussed or considered an issue. What has changed?
In the last 20 years, the bond that we share with our pets has steadily become stronger. Our pets are now cherished family members and the expectation for veterinarians to keep pets happy and healthy has risen along with this. In addition, significant advances have been made in the study of pain and inflammation in our pets.
Not too long ago, we assumed that pets did not really feel pain and that bad breath was normal for our four legged family members. We now know that this is simply not true. Pets do, in fact, feel pain. They just tolerate pain differently due to the lack of awareness that pain is abnormal and that something can be done about it. We often get asked why pets still go on eating and act normal, even in the face of severe dental pain. In the wild, if an animal allows pain to prevent it from eating, it will become weak and will be preyed upon or expelled from the pack. In essence, they instinctively do their very best to hide it.
Newer research has proven that chronic oral infection and inflammation are a serious threat to our pet’s overall health and well being. We often compare pet dental care to that for people, but the fact is that pets often have a degree of tooth and gum disease that is much more severe than most people.
There are several reasons for this:
• Pets do not brush or floss their own teeth. Even when we as pet owners brush our pet’s teeth, we often are not able to do it thoroughly and often enough to make a big difference. Just as in people, teeth have to be brushed daily to truly reduce tartar buildup and maintain gum health. In addition, our pets are often resistant to brushing and we physically just cannot reach all areas of their teeth.
• Our domestic pets do not really fully utilize their teeth anymore, which results in more buildup of plaque and tartar and more severe gum disease. In the wild, pets have to use their fang teeth to kill their prey. They then use their cheek teeth to tear through skin, tendons, and muscle and crush through bone. The small front incisor teeth help strip meat and ligaments off the bone. Today, our pets get their food handily pre-killed, made into small kibble, and served in a bowl. Many also eat people food and treats, which often adds ingredients that exacerbate existing gum disease. This lack of fully using their teeth contributes to the level of dental problems we see in pets these days.
• Pets today come in all shapes and sizes, as compared to the wolf in the wild. As the size of many pets has shrunken, such as in our miniature and toy breeds, their teeth, however, have not nearly as much. An animal’s teeth need to be of a certain minimum size in order to perform their function, which is killing and eating prey.
As we have developed our small breeds, Mother Nature has kept the teeth large enough to still perform this function. If you compare the size of the teeth or a 5lb Yorkie to those of a 75 lb. German Shepherd, you will notice that the Yorkie’s teeth are about ¼ the size of those of the larger dog, while its body size is only about 1/10. That means that the teeth of small breed dogs are proportionately much larger than those of larger dogs. This makes the mouths of small breeds much more crowded, leading to severe tartar buildup and loss of bone and gum tissue quickly. These tiny mouths are also much harder to brush than those of larger dogs.
To make matters worse, we also now have our brachycephalic breeds such as pugs, bull dogs, Shih Tzus, and Boston Terriers. These dogs have a very flat snout and extremely shortened jaw bones, leaving very little room for their teeth. As a result, most of their teeth are rotated and stacked like dominoes behind one another, often causing significant dental problems. They also often have impacted teeth that can’t erupt or baby teeth that do not fall out, which again results in dental and gum disease.
The bottom line is that dental and periodontal disease – chronic inflammation and infection in our pets’ mouths – is a serious health problem that can be quite painful and significantly affect our pets’ quality of life.
Due to the fact that veterinary dentistry is a relatively recent medical field, not every veterinary hospital may offer the same set of skills and knowledge in caring for your pet’s teeth. Dentistry has only been recently offered as part of the veterinary education, and many veterinarians have acquired the skills and knowledge to properly treat pet’s teeth and gums via continuing education based on their level of interest and understanding of the field. This accounts for the fact that as a pet owner you may have received several different opinions about your pet’s teeth and likely will see a great variance on the cost of pet dental care from hospital to hospital.
The fees for dental care in pets are primarily determined by the level of knowledge and quality of equipment each hospital has. Dental X-Ray units to evaluate the large amount of the teeth that lies below the gum line, as well as high speed dental drills that allow veterinarians to properly extract large teeth such as the fang teeth or molars, are now considered necessary to provide proper dental care for your pet and eliminate all sources of pain and infection. Yet many veterinary hospitals do not have this equipment and offer just cosmetic “teeth cleanings” of the area above the gum line. This may make the teeth look clean but will do nothing to address the true causes of pain and infection – disease below the gum line and at the root of the teeth.
For more information about pets and dental care and to receive reliable information, please visit the website of the American Veterinary Dental College at http://www.avdc.org/ownersinfo.html
For more specific questions about your own pet, feel free to contact us at 770-479-7141 or via email, or call to schedule a complimentary dental exam and consultation for your pet. We would love to help you keep your pet’s teeth healthy and pain free!