New Dental Facts

Pets Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

More Dental Pet Tales

February is pet dental health month, a time when many veterinarians participate in programs or methods to help clients better understand the importance of healthy teeth for their pets. Well, it's still February and I still have more I would like tell you about teeth. As is the case in other areas of veterinary medicine, there is constantly new learning in animal dentistry. There are new services and new products offered, there are new insights gained to old problems. It is some of these things I want to focus on this time.

We used to think that dogs did not get cavities. Now we know differently.  "Cavities" is the common term for dental decay. More properly they are called caries, which is Latin for rottenness. Caries are a bacterial decay of the tooth structure caused by the release of acids from oral bacteria fermenting carbohydrates, contained in food, on the surface of the tooth. Dogs do have a much lower incidence of caries than humans. There are a number reasons proposed to explain this fact. Dogs have different shaped teeth with less area for food to impact and be retained. Their diets include little fermentable carbohydrate. The higher pH of their saliva better buffers bacterial acids and relatively low levels of a salivary enzyme, called amylase, means there is less breakdown of starches, from the diet, retained around the teeth. 

Nevertheless, Dr. Fraser Hale, a board certified veterinary dental specialist, who practices in Guelph, has found that 5.25% of his adult canine patients had one or more caries lesion. These findings were published in the Journal of Veterinary Dentistry. With early detection of the lesions, he recommends restorative procedures to prevent serious decay and loss of the tooth.

Dental resorptive lesion is the name given to one of the most common tooth diseases to affect cats. They are painful, common and should be treated. Over the years there have been a number of different theories suggested to explain what causes these problems for cats and why they seem to be increasing in frequency. Recently it has been proposed that it may have something to do with excess dietary vitamin D contained in some cat foods. In certain cat foods studied, levels of Vitamin D greatly exceeded commonly accepted levels that cats require. Cat owners should be sure that the manufacturer of the food they are feeding their cat, can supply accurate data on Vitamin D levels and if they are high, justify why that is the case.

Lymphocytic plasmacytic stomatitis is another feline dental disease that is not yet well understood. It is one of the most severely painful syndromes that can affect a cat. Affected cats show extreme pain on opening the mouth. Cats will vocalize and jump when they yawn or when they open their mouth to eat. It is easy to understand why cats act this way when the mouth is examined. Extremely inflamed, ulcerated, growing and sometimes bleeding tissue extends from around the teeth to the back of the mouth. Recently, several new drugs and treatment methods have been used to attempt to treat this condition. However, extraction of all the premolar and molar teeth is still the only treatment that has been shown to provide long term relief for many patients.

Brushing your pet's teeth remains the home care measure that can most benefit the health of their teeth. The effectiveness of brushing is linked to the owner's knowledge, commitment and the animal's acceptance. Many current instructions allow two or three times a week brushing. While this may help some, it has been shown that daily attention to this procedure is necessary to maintain oral health. What toothpaste should be used? The one your pet likes! They come in mint, vanilla, beef, seafood and poultry flavours. Poultry is reported to be the most popular. Chlorhexidine rinses and gels have also proven beneficial as part of an oral health program.

In the last few years there have been a number of diets become available that are specifically designed to reduce tartar and plaque buildup on the teeth. They can be used for both cats and dogs. Unique kibble technology was used to develop some of these diets. One manufacturer has created an expanded striated structural fiber matrix of the kibble chunk. It works like a toothbrush to clean the teeth and freshen the breath as the pet chews. Other techniques to attempt to improve a dog food's ability to prevent plaque and tartar involve increasing the size of the kibble and coating it with sodium hexametaphosphate. You could ask your veterinarian whether such diets might be suitable for your pet.