Written by Dr. Patrick Mananey VMD, CVA, CVJ
Some owners are aghast upon hearing that they need to put effort into promoting their pet’s best dental health. Doing so is an essential part of pet ownership, as our canine and feline companions cannot sufficiently clean their own teeth. If your human child never matured sufficiently to take care of his own mouth, would you refrain from brushing (and flossing) his teeth? Such would be looked upon as neglect on behalf of the parent or caretaker.
We have to address our pets’ oral cavity health in the manner like we do our human children. Periodontal disease is a completely preventable condition having mild to severe health consequences when permitted to progress.
What is periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease is a syndrome of conditions affecting the teeth and their adjacent structures, including bacterial infection, gingivitis (gum inflammation), and loss of attachment between the periodontal ligament and underlying bone (i.e. ‘loose teeth’).
Dog and cat mouths are dirty places chock full of bacteria having potential to harm their internal organs (or people who sustain a bite). Periodontal disease permits bacteria to move from the mouth into the blood and spread throughout the body. The heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and other systems are susceptible to damage and failure from oral cavity bacteria. Additionally, bacteria can be inhaled into the respiratory tract and contribute to breathing problems including coughing, snoring, sneezing, wheezing, tracheal collapse, and pneumonia.
Inflammation created by periodontal disease also creates an energetic drain on the immune system. White blood cells and inflammatory mediators that could otherwise be used to manage infection and inflammation in other parts of the body are directed to the mouth to help keep bacteria from entering the blood. Unnecessary immune system stimulation from the poor oral health can also contribute to immune-mediated (autoimmune) diseases.
What impact do kibble and chewing habits have on dental health?
Although most pet owners like to think that their pet’s dry food and chewing habits sufficiently promote optimal dental health, such a presumption is far from the truth. Actually, dry food (kibble) shatters when the pet’s tooth penetrates the surface and provides no cleansing effect unless a veterinary prescription dental diet is fed. Instead of being thoroughly chewed, kibble is often gulped down whole. This obviously has no teeth-cleaning effect and can lead to over consumption of calories, inefficient digestion of food, and even more serious health problems (vomit, gastric dilatation volvulus, food bloat, etc.).
Dogs and cats showing interest in chewing on toys, bones, dental-specific treats, or other structures can help to improve their periodontal health. Yet, not all tooth surfaces or mouth parts are cleaned by the chewing process. Additionally, over-zealous chewing of hard materials (bone, plastic, etc.) can lead to dental fractures and gingival bleeding.
How do I avoid periodontal disease in my pets?
In general, my canine and feline patients that eat human-grade, whole-food diets have cleaner mouths with less evidence of periodontal disease. Their immune systems are also less stressed by toxins (like mold-produced alfatoxin and vomitoxin), artificial colors, and preservatives and therefore function better to minimize the negative effects of oral cavity bacteria.
Additionally, dedicated effort to promote better pet dental health, like taking a moistened toothbrush or dental wipe to your cat or dog’s teeth on a daily basis, helps to prevent periodontal disease and promotes whole-body health. Start daily cleaning early in your pet’s life so that the process will be accepted and otherwise-preventable medical concerns never occur. Your pet will thank you for it!