Prime Times Article . "Brush my dogs teeth? You must be crazy!" Thats what a lot of people say when I or my staff suggests that brushing their pet's teeth can help prevent diseases that cause pain and suffering and shorten their pet's life. Think about it though, how would you feel if you never brushed your teeth. Try it sometime. See if you can go a week without brushing. You won't have many friends that will get close to you, and your spouse will probably want to move out, but it will sure make you realize the value of brushing. Good dental hygiene is very important not only in maintaining the health teeth and gums, but also helps prevent age related disease such as kidney failure and heart disease. This is true in people, but it is even more true in our pets.When pets eat, food particles and saliva accumulate in the pockets under the gums, and this breeds bacteria. These bacteria multiply and produce large mucoprotein molecules which we know as plaque. This plaque serves as a framework for minerals such as calcium and phosphorous to bind to. When this happens, it becomes tartar and calculus. This hard, literally "stoney" substance then accumulates under and eventually above the gumline. Below the gumline, it pushes the gums away from the teeth and allows the bacteria to get deeper into the tissue. Eventually this can lead to loss of the tooth because the socket becomes decayed, or worse, it may even lead to osteomyelitis ( infection of bone) in the jaw or sinus. Above the gumline, this tartar and calculus can cover the surface of the tooth and do damage to the enamel surface, making it prone to more accumulation in the future. By routinely brushing the pets teeth once or twice a week with a flavored toothpaste made for pets, and having the teeth cleaned by your veterinarian at least once every 12-18 months, this process can be interupted and the teeth can be saved. More importantly, the bacteria involved don't get access to the bloodstream, so they don't travel to organs such as the kidneys or liver, or set up infections in the heart valves. This will lead to a longer and healthier life for the pet. "So what do I do if my pet has clean teeth, but one of them looks broken?". Well, if there is a broken tooth, and it just happened, the tip of the broken tooth can be treated with a process called a Vital Pulpotomy where the top of the root canal is cleaned and sealed. This will keep the tooth from eventually decaying from the center out. If it is an old break, or it is very low to the gumline, a root canal procedure, just like human destists do, can be performed. Alternatively, the tooth can be extracted. Although it is not essential, a tooth cap can be placed on a freshly broken tooth to preserve the cosmetic appearance. Caps can be gold, silver, or natural enamel colored. If your pet's teeth are crooked, and it causes difficulty in chewing, or causes unnatural wearing of tooth surfaces, then there are orthodontic devices (braces) that can help re-align these teeth. One of the most common reasons for misalignment of a pet's teeth is failure to lose baby teeth at the proper time. If you have a puppy or kitten less than 6 months of age, you should have your veterinarian examine the mouth and teeth every 3-4 weeks until all the baby teeth have been lost and the adults are in. Removing retained baby teeth is a lot easier and less expensive than applying braces. Veterinary dentistry has come a long way in the past 10 years. Most veterinarians can perform routine cleanings and extractions, and more and more are learning the techniques needed for the advanced procedures. The next time you take your pet in for annual exams and vaccinations, be sure your veterinarian examines the teeth carefully and determines if there is a need for cleaning. Ask him or her about special toothpastes and toothbrushes which will aid you in home care. You may want to try a special diet made for dogs and cats, which can help keep the teeth clean through "kibble dynamics" technology. This food is called Hill's t/d (tm). Most veterinarians carry it. Brushing teeth and feeding the t/d (tm) can make your dog's or cat's breath much more pleasant and will reduce the risk of many common health problems. Next time, I'll talk about a deadly disease of both dogs and cats, and how you can prevent it for about 15¢ a day. Until then, keep brushing! Eric R. Lewis, D.V.M. Bell Road Animal Medical Center.
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