PODCAST TOPIC: Dental Health for Your Pet
INTRO: Welcome to K-State's Pet Health Podcast. Today's topic – dental health for your pet. Today's Pet Health expert is Dr. Matt Riegel, assistant professor at K-State's College of Veterinary Medicine. Dental disease is the most common infection in small animals, and by age four as many as 75% of dogs and cats will have some form of periodontal disease. The good news is, with a proper dental health plan, pet owners can help their animals keep their teeth and gums clean and healthy.
RIEGEL: We're sort of focusing on in the veterinary profession to realize that dog teeth are as important to them as our teeth are to us. Although they haven't been a focus in the past, the early disease process of gingivitis that we as humans try to prevent by one, brushing our teeth twice a day, flossing, going to the dentist and having professional scaling or polishing done -- the whole purpose of that is to prevent gingivitis from progressing. The reason for that is gingivitis itself is reversible. The same similar thing occurs in dogs and cats and that is if the gingivitis that is there progresses, then we have irreversible disease. We may be able to improve on, but we can't reverse. The irreversible disease is bone loss, recession of the gums, you have more of the roots exposed, those types of things. It will lead on and on and on until your tooth is really loose and falls out and you've lost all of your surrounding bone. That is potentially the end, but what we're realizing as a profession is that the same focus on preventing the progression of the disease, catching it really early is still important. So what we're trying to educate our clientele is we need to actually brush the animal's teeth at home. I get fair amount of very weird looks at times when I say that, but at the same time, my job is to recommend the best thing we can do for our animals at home.
Right now there are all kinds of things on the dental market. There's food, there's rinses, there's different dental chews, there's bones, and you name it, they've got on the dental market. I will tell you the best thing you can do for your animal's health is to brush their teeth daily. The first key is to start early. When I talk to my puppy and kitten owners, I try to impress upon them the need even at that stage to working, doing some behavior modifications and kind of desensitizing them to having their owner's fingers in their mouth and not being worried about it. So at a puppy stage, when they're very, very impressionable, you can play with the dog's mouth, put their finger in their mouth and make that step easier. Either way, whether it's an old dog or a young dog, the way I approach it is very similar. This is not going to be a 100%. Not every animal is going to respond. There are some animals that just absolutely will not let you. I think more common than not, if you're persistent, and you're not really aggressive with how fast you move through the process, most of the time it is potentially possible to be successful.
What I start with again, is just rubbing the finger on the outside of the dog's mouth. You can start by just rubbing the face, getting the animal used to you manipulating the face, having your hands around the head, and when they realize their not getting hurt by it, at the end of it, you give them a little treat. Positive reinforcement let's them know that you know the next time this happens, they're not going to hurt me and I'm going to get a treat, so maybe I'll sit here and actually enjoy it. I have the owners do a step like that for a week and let the animals know there's not going to be anything wrong with what happens. It's going to be non-threatening. Then I'll actually take my finger and put it inside the mouth on the outside of the teeth and just rub the gums. Again, if you do that for a minute all the way around the mouth, but give the animal a treat at the end for it, they will go hey, this isn't too bad. I'm getting a treat at the end of it, and I'm not getting hurt, and I sort of like the attention. Normally they'll be open to that. You do that once a day for another week or however long it takes to make sure the animal enjoys it and is not being worked up about it.
Once the animal gets really comfortable with one step, and what you can do is add another step. We're essentially going from doing very, very little to after you rub the gums, you put a little bit of that dog's toothpaste, or animal toothpaste on your finger, let them lick it off, and after they lick it, rub the guns again. And do that once until they become comfortable and then the next time, I would get a tooth brush. There are all kinds of veterinary dental toothbrushes out there. There are times I would recommend, or you can get a soft bristle – a youth or child's toothbrush. Put the actually toothpaste on the toothbrush and let them lick it off, and then slowly rub the gums with the toothbrush -- as long as it's very, very small increments, very small changes, very small steps. It may take three or four months, doing it once a day, every other day, but as long as they're getting positive reinforcement, often times they get to a point where they don't mind it at all. At that point, after a couple of months, you're brushing their teeth. It's a time commitment, and once you get down to it, it will take you about a minute to brush their teeth. You're really doing the dog a huge favor.
The important thing to remember is just the same way as people, brushing the teeth alone, if you actually have the disease, won't remove the disease. If you've got really bad teeth, obviously the first step would be to have a professional cleaning done by your veterinarian, and then start the brushing afterwards. If you've got a lot of plaque and calculus, a lot of times the brushing won't take care of it. Now if you do have one of those animals that just really have advance disease and or you just really cannot do at least brushing, then you need to go to your veterinarian, and devise a home care plan. Ideally, the best would be to brush the teeth. If that's not the case, then maybe you add a specific diet if it's not contrary to another disease process that's going on -- maybe potentially adding some of the different types of dental chews, maybe some of the oral rinses, some of those types of things. Obviously do the best you can. In an ideal world, we would brush every animal's teeth and they would allow it. Because you sort of have to use a lot of the dental products out there that your veterinarian feels comfortable with and utilize them to maintain as healthy a mouth as you possibly can. Sometimes that would mean doing professional cleanings every nine or ten months. Maybe they don't need to have that done every two or three years but getting your veterinarian involved and finding a veterinarian that's really interested in oral care would be where I would tell you to start.
The one thing I would tell you to look for is not eating anymore. I will find a lot of animals that have a fractured tooth that we suspect is very uncomfortable, and we'll show the owners, and the owners will go they're still eating, so it's probably not painful, and from my perspective, animals are always going to hid oral pain the best way they can. Now they will give away small signs, and those signs are any or all of the following: Obviously is there's any kind of halitosis, which of course is bad breath, sudden bad breath, that's obviously a sign it could be oral disease, dental disease it could be something else in the mouth that's actually in the stomach was well. Halitosis or bad breath is one sign. Other evidence of pain that may not have enough disease to have bad breath would be dropping food out of their mouth, potentially chewing on just one side. There are very few people that watch their animals eat. I'm not going to tell you should watch your animal eat all the time, but if you start to see things are different, they're more reluctant to eat, they're not eating as quickly, they appear to be more sensitive to different temperatures in the water you place out. If any of those things are seen, then I think it would be recommended to watch and make sure we're not just chewing on one side of our mouth than the other. If they chew on one side, what that usually means is that the other side is painful. Any of those are potential early signs. Another is often seen is that when you place the food bowl down, an animal will go to the food bowl and sit down and begin to whimper or act like I would really like to eat, but I don't want to. That could potentially be a sign that, there's a reason there that you should go see a veterinarian and have them focus on the mouth a little bit.
It is very widely known that dental disease is the most common infection in small animals. We do know that by the age of probably three or four as much as 75% of dogs and cats will have some level of periodontal disease in their mouth. That's an incredible amount of animals that have some levels of disease. I don't want to scare people into thinking that every animal needs five or six extractions, or has teeth that are extremely affected. When we say periodontal disease, it might be early disease, but at the same time, it is becoming a stage we're not going to be able to reverse. True periodontal pathology is on its way if we don't take care of it, if we're not aggressive with preventing it, irreversible disease is right around the corner, unless their owners are very, very aggressive with their home care, which is of course where we would love to see everybody at. They will all experience some level of dental disease. The very difficult thing for us to determine is how much discomfort and how much pain they are in. We can assume what probably would hurt a person, would probably be uncomfortable to a person as well, but we can't 100% prove that."
OUTRO: And that's another K-State Pet Health Podcast. Check back later for more important information for your pet.