First of all, what is dental hygiene? Dental hygiene is a set of practices that allow us to eliminate the plaque that forms naturally and permanently on the surface of the teeth. Dental health is an important part of human health, so why should it be any different for our cats and dogs? There are many similarities between animal and human dental health.
Why is this so important?
Just as in humans, animals will also have an accumulation of dental plaque on their teeth. This plaque is the result of the superposition of many bacteria that attach themselves to the teeth, but also to each other. There are approximately 100 000 000 000 bacteria per gram of dental plaque! After 24 to 48 hours, the plaque mineralizes and forms what is called tartar. Once tartar has hardened, even brushing your animal’s teeth can’t remove it – you’ll have to go under the vet’s curette and ultrasonic scaler! But why do we need to prevent this build-up? Plaque and tartar build-up irritate the gums and cause inflammation. In other words, gingivitis will occur. Gingivitis is often the first stage of periodontal disease.
This disease is actually an imbalance between the bacterial flora and the immune system. It is an attack on the periodontium, which includes all the tissues that support the tooth from the gum to the alveolar bone. The bad bacteria will destroy the tissue by penetrating between the tooth and the gum until they reach the root of the tooth. At this point, the damage is irreversible and often the tooth will have to be pulled to stop causing pain to the animal. The bad bacteria can also enter the bloodstream and cause problems in other organs such as the heart, lungs and reproductive organs.
What to use for good dental hygiene?
There are several ways to care for your pet’s teeth. There are two main categories: active care and passive care. Active care will actively remove plaque from the teeth with the owner’s action (brushing, antiseptic rinses and products to prevent plaque build-up). Passive care is based on the mechanical action of the animal’s chewing (food and dental treats). In general, active care is most effective on incisors and canines while passive care is most effective on premolars and molars. Using several different means is important to improve your pet’s dental health. Despite all the options available, daily tooth brushing is still the best way. Many products are available on the market, but some are ineffective and sometimes not safe for your pet. When in doubt, do not hesitate to consult your veterinarian!
Niemiec, Brook A. (2013) Veterinary Periodontology. John Wiley & Sons, 372p.
Harvey C, Serfilippi L, Barnvos D. Effect of Frequency of Brushing Teeth on Plaque and Calculus Accumulation, and Gingivitis in Dogs. J Vet Dent. 2015 Spring;32(1):16-21.
Kinane DF, Stathopoulou PG, Papapanou PN. Periodontal diseases. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2017 Jun 22;3:17038.