February 1, 2009 "Ask Seth"

My dog Muffin was recently diagnosed with periodontal disease. What can I do at home to help prevent this?

Dear Seth,

I recently went to my veterinarian and he diagnosed my dog Muffin with periodontal disease and wants to do a dental cleaning on her. What are the benefits of having this done? Is it necessary? Is there anything I can do at home to help her with her teeth?


This is a great question at the right time. February is Pet Dental Month. This question comes up often and can easily explain the statistic that close to 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have signs of oral disease by the age of three. Dental care is consistently the most common overlooked area of pet healthcare by owners. Dental disease does not just affect the mouth. It can also lead to more serious health issues including the heart, lung and kidney disease. Proper dental care is essential to overall pet health.

Periodontal disease is the infection of the tissues surrounding the teeth. Plaque is bacteria that attaches to the teeth. The plaque dies and is then calcified by the saliva becoming hard tarter. Plaque then attaches to the hard tarter and the process continues over and over again. This occurs below the gum line and the visible tooth. This causes gingivitis which is the inflammation of the gums that can cause them to bleed easily. Left untreated, the tissue around the tooth will become destroyed. This will cause the tooth to become loose and painful. This problem can be prevented with proper dental care.

Your veterinarian may recommend the following as part of a dental cleaning:

  1. Pre-anesthetic exam: This is recommended with any procedure with anesthesia. It allows the vet to get a greater overall picture of the health of the animal and if they are healthy enough to undergo anesthesia. This can include blood work and urine tests to look for heart or kidney disease and other conditions. As with any anesthesia, there are some risks.

  2. Anesthesia monitoring: A dental technician will monitor the heart rate, respiratory rate and temperature. This is a safety precaution.

  3. Scaling and Polishing: Using the same type of instruments used on human teeth, they will begin by scaling the teeth of the tarter and plaque. Once the teeth are cleared of the plaque and tarter, they will be smoothed with the high speed polisher.

  4. Fluoride treatment: A fluoride treatment is preformed to strengthen the enamel while desensitizing the teeth. This also allows the decrease of future plaque adhering to the tooth.

Home Care: It is possible to brush your pet?s teeth. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you DO NOT use human toothpaste. This can cause stomach problems in animals because they swallow the paste. Consult with your veterinarian regarding home dental care instructions.

Seth Mayersohn, CVT

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