What is involved with a routine dental cleaning?
A routine dental cleaning involves an examination of the mouth, noting the alignment of the teeth and the extent of tartar accumulation above and below the gum line. Next, tooth scaling is performed using traditional hand scalers and ultrasonic cleaning equipment to remove tartar above and below the gum line, and last polishing to remove microscopic scratches in order to help prevent subsequent plaque build-up. Special applications such as Oravet fluoride, antibiotic preparations and cleaning compounds may be indicated to decrease tooth sensitivity, strengthen enamel, treat bacterial infection and reduce future plaque accumulation.
How does tartar form and why is it a problem?
The mouth is home to thousands of bacteria. As these bacteria multiply on the surfaces of the tooth, they form an invisible layer called plaque or biofilm. Some of this plaque is removed naturally by the dog's tongue and chewing habits. If allowed to remain on the tooth surface, the plaque thickens and becomes mineralized. Mineralized plaque forms tartar and as the tartar thickens further it becomes calculus. The tartar accumulates above and below the gum line and irritates the gums, causing inflammation called gingivitis. Plaque can also cause infection that affects tonsils and pharynx or even travel into the blood stream and be carried to other organs. "Bad teeth" can cause infections in the heart valves (endocarditis), kidneys and/or liver.
Why can't I just remove the tartar and plaque with a dental scaler?
Although you can remove the tartar that has accumulated above the gum line in some dogs that are extremely co-operative, there are three problems with doing this. First, only the tartar above the gum line is removed, leaving behind the material below the gum line, which will continue to cause periodontal problems. Second, it is not possible or safe to clean the inner surfaces of the teeth properly in a conscious dog. Third, the use of any instrument on the tooth enamel will cause microscopic scratches on the surface, ultimately damaging the tooth surface and leading to further disease. (This is the reason why your dental hygienist always polishes your teeth after removing the tartar with dental instruments).
How can I prevent tartar accumulation after the procedure?
Plaque and tartar begin forming in as little as six hours after your pet's dental cleaning. A home dental care program including regular tooth brushing is a must for all pets. Your veterinarian will provide you with detailed instructions on how to brush or rinse your pet's teeth.
I was unaware that dogs have dental problems. Is it common?
Dental disease is one of the most common medical conditions seen by veterinarians. Over 68% of all dogs over the age of three are estimated to have some form of periodontal or dental disease. Few pets show signs of dental disease. It is up to the pet's family and veterinarian to uncover this hidden and often painful condition. Common causes of dental problems are:
Gum disease starts when soft plaque (the thin, sticky film that builds up on the teeth) inflames the gums, a condition called "gingivitis." If your pet has bad breath and reddened or bleeding gums, he or she has gingivitis. Gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease. It is also possible for an infection in the mouth to spread through the blood to other organs, such as the kidneys and heart. Commonly, though, physical signs of gum disease are not obvious, even when the disease is advanced. That is why it is so important to have your pet's teeth checked regularly by his or her veterinarian.
(Copyright 2015 American Animal Hospital Association)
What is periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease is a term used to describe inflammation or infection of the tissues surrounding the tooth. Accumulation of tartar and calculus on the teeth causes gum recession around the base of the tooth. Infection can follow causing further gum recession, exposing sensitive unprotected tooth root surfaces. Left untreated, the infection can spread deep into the tooth socket, affecting the bone. Losing periodontal ligaments and bone integrity causes a tooth to loosen and fall out.
Can tartar be prevented?
Plaque becomes mineralized in some dogs much quicker than in others. The best way to prevent tartar build-up is regular home care, particularly tooth brushing using toothpaste that is specifically designed to be swallowed. Special dog chew toys and treats may help reduce or delay tartar build-up. Some pet foods have been specifically formulated as dental diets that mechanically assist in plaque removal
Can I use human toothpaste?
Human dentifrice or toothpaste should never be used in dogs. These foaming products contain ingredients that are not intended to be swallowed and that could cause internal problems. Numerous pet toothpastes that are non-foaming and safe to be swallowed are available in flavors that are appealing to dogs.