Brushing teeth: Is once a week enough?

In human medicine, oral healthcare is so important that there is an entire field dedicated to it. What you might not know is that the science behind your beloved cats and dogs’ teeth is not that different compared to ours. Yet, dental hygiene is one of the most neglected aspects of pet healthcare.  In this article, we will focus on one of the most common oral diseases known as periodontitis.

This disease can be categorised into four grades: normal, mild, moderate and severe.

What exactly is periodontitis? It is the disease that occurs around the teeth which includes the mucosal area (the lining covering the inside of your mouth), gums and any bones related to teeth. So how does this happen? Just like ours, an animal’s mouth is always full of bacteria – both good and bad germs. These bacteria naturally form a biofilm around the teeth, also known as dental plaque. These bacteria are what can cause infection and inflammation to the surroundings of the teeth, resulting in what we know as periodontitis.

severe periodontitis with build up of tartar

Over time, dental plaque hardens to form tartar or calculus. The growing tartar will eventually erode the gums, increasing severity of periodontitis, and ultimately leading to exposed tooth roots and bone exhaustion or bone resorption/loss. This poses a health risk to our pets and results in the following: poor appetite, rotten or loose teeth, and pain in the mouth. Small breed dogs with severe periodontitis in particular are predisposed to jaw fractures if the bone exhaustion is bad. Even worse, this condition can cause damage to the heart, kidneys and liver, if and when the oral bacteria enter the bloodstream.

How can we prevent all this?

1. Routine teeth brushing

The best way is going back to basics – brushing twice daily. If not, at least twice a week is encouraged so your pet learns to get used to teeth brushing. With puppies and kittens, owners can and should begin this healthy habit as early as possible – you can start brushing once their puppy/kitten teeth erupt. You can start by brushing your pet’s teeth with your fingers (to mimic the brushing), then eventually transitioning to pet or baby toothbrushes with the appropriate pet range toothpaste.

2. Dental treats

On the market, there are many types of dental treats that aid in reducing tartar formation. Any brand that has ‘VOHC’ (which stands for Veterinary Oral Health Council) on the packaging can be used for this purpose.

3. Dental kibbles

There are brands that have dental range for both dogs and cats. The size of these kibbles is bigger than the generic kibbles and the texture/consistency is slightly doughy. The purpose of this texture allows indirect brushing of the teeth while the animal is chewing the kibbles, while the large kibble size encourages the pet to eat slowly to prevent regurgitation.

4. Professional dental cleaning – scaling and polishing

When plaque is hardened and thickened, it becomes tartar/calculus which cannot be removed by simply brushing and requires dental scaling in order to be removed. This procedure should be done routinely every 6-12 months. Scaling and polishing requires the patient to lie still in order to complete the procedure safely and thoroughly. Therefore, general anaesthesia to undergo this procedure is strictly compulsory.

 

In conclusion, good oral healthcare for your pet starts with awareness. As the old saying goes, “prevention is better than cure”. Start caring for your pet’s teeth as early as possible, do it daily and with discipline, and get their teeth checked at your veterinarian’s regularly. Your pet will be grateful.

 

Dr Ng Yik Soon

Midtown Falim Veterinary Clinic & Surgery