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Dental Care
Strong Teeth Make for Healthy Pets
Many people take it for granted that losing teeth is just part of getting old. I used to believe this myself, thinking tooth loss is just one of the natural processes we all have to go through and inevitably accept as a sign of aging. That is, until I had an opportunity to work at a dentist office. Through this experience, I learned the critical importance of taking care of my teeth and gums throughout my life. Not only for my short-term oral health, but as part of keeping my entire body healthy throughout my life.

Your pets are no exception - both cats and dogs can easily share the same dental problems found in humans.

The most common dental disease in dogs and cats is periodontal disease. This disorder is caused by bacteria that thrive on food particles stuck between teeth and gums. Plaque and tartar buildup follow when these bacteria combine with food debris and saliva. The gum lines get infected, becoming red and swollen (gingivitis). Unless handled with proper regularity, this gum disease proceeds silently, until one day your pets' teeth are loose and falling out.

Of course, there are many noticeable symptoms of periodontal disease. Bad breath, bleeding, red, and swollen gums, plaque (a yellowish slime along the gum lines), and tartar (hardened plaque and calculus). Your pet may also have a reluctance to eat hard food, and may avoid crunchy or chewy treats, rawhides, and so on.

And the problems may not end here. If periodontal disease is ignored, it may lead to more troublesome situations.

The problem-causing bacteria in the mouth can get into the blood stream. There, they will circulate through the body, potentially causing various other health problems for the pet - such as diseases involving the lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, and digestive tracts. The bacteria, which are normally only found in the mouth, can sometimes be found in the organs of these diseased animals.

The modern diet of domesticated dogs and cats (such as dry and canned pet foods, and some varieties of pet treats) has made pets more susceptible to dental problems, just like humans.

The "carnivorous" teeth of cats and dogs make the formation of cavities more difficult, but irritation of gum lines involving plaque, tartar, and gingivitis are very common among pets. About 80% of dogs and cats experience oral diseases like these, even in the early stages of their life - by the age of three, in some cases.

Once tartar forms, you may need your veterinarian to remove it. Because tartar is very hard, and sticks to teeth like cement, veterinarians often anesthetize your pets and use special equipment to remove the tartar and clean the teeth. Though removing calculus without complex tools may be attempted at home (by using a proper dental tool), this approach requires a lot of patience for both you and your pet. You might want to do this cleaning between veterinary visits to keep the tartar buildup minimum. Once tartar buildup has progressed, I recommend seeking your vet's help, as it is more thorough and effective. In addition, veterinarians can take this time to properly examine and diagnose your pets' teeth and gums for other conditions.

Although your veterinarians are professional in cleaning your pets' teeth, this does not mean you are powerless to do things at home on a daily basis. Just as you can care for your own teeth, you can easily slow down the process of dental diseases in your pets.

Brushing your pets' teeth regularly (ideally, at least once a day) is the most effective way to keep teeth clean and gums healthy. The effective brushing is to focus on the areas between teeth and along the gumline - especially outside the molar teeth where severe plaque and tartar can form.

Please don't use human toothpaste on your pets! These products are formulated with people in mind, and they do not advise you to swallow the paste. But your pet may have less control of swallowing when you brush their teeth, and certainly can't spit and rinse when you finish. So instead, use a toothpaste specifically made for pets - these are safe for swallowing.

If your pets won't easily cooperate with tooth brushing, using chew toys and rawhides is another relatively good way to help reduce tartar buildup. Some people give their dogs carrots as a healthy chewing alternative. Carrots are crunchy, helping to scrape away plaque and other debris that stick on teeth, and so provide a little variety for chewing exercise options.

Although teeth and gums become weak through a lifetime of wear and tear, aging itself is not the absolute, direct cause of tooth loss. Rather, periodontal disease is the chief culprit - a result of eating modern soft and sugary foods without proper, daily care of teeth and gums. Through your own efforts at home, combined with annual cleanings by a professional, your dogs and cats can live longer, healthier lives that include excellent oral care.

Special Note: Although every effort has been made to present healthy products and useful information to support your pets' health, the products and information contained within this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The contents of this site are not meant as a substitute for consultation with a trained veterinarian. If you are concerned about the health of your pets, you should ask your veterinarian for proper guidance suited to the specific condition of your pets. The owners of this website accept no liability for any consequences resulting from the use of products and/or information provided through this site. Please use your discretion when attending to your pets' health.
Special thanks to Fintan Darragh, Rich Bensen, Maggie, Jiji, and Mary Crissman for providing our pet pictures!
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