This blog is a bit of a departure from our usual topics, but a patient recently reminded me of an often neglected, yet very important subject – our pets’ health. We know that our animals need exercise and that obesity is just as harmful to cats and dogs as it is to men and women. What we often fail to realize is that our pets have oral health issues too, and that many of their problems are the same as ours.
When foods we eat contain too much sugar and carbohydrate, the small percentage of harmful bacteria contained in the oral cavity begin to thrive and grow in number. These are bacteria “with a sweet tooth,” and as they break down sugary substances, they produce corrosive by-products that erode enamel and accumulate plaque along the gumline. The plaque gradually builds making a perfect environment for corrosive bacteria to colonize. Eventually pockets of infection form under the gums causing them to become red and puffy looking. Infected gums tend to bleed easily and cause persistent bad breath.
Left unchecked, these pockets begin to damage not only enamel, but underlying cartilage and bone. Teeth can even loosen and fall out, but not before months, even years, of destructive bacteria have entered the bloodstream. These inflammatory microbes are connected with many chronic health issues like heart disease and stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, some cancers, and late-life dementia.
We bet you’ve forgotten we are talking about pets! We are not vets but we do understand that your cat and dog can fall prey to the same cycle of painful and sometimes debilitating periodontal disease as you, but they can’t raise a paw and say, “My teeth hurt!” In fact, they are descended from animals that would be at a disadvantage if they made vulnerabilities like pain or illness known. Like us, animals are subject to cavities, broken teeth, and orthodontic issues. Each can affect more than your pet’s mouth – they can affect other parts of the body and make your pet sick.
Because our patient had asked about her dog’s very bad breath, we suggested that she have her vet check him for periodontal disease and suggested some easy steps she could take in the meantime. Diet is an important factor in an animal’s oral health. Dog chews and crunchy sugar-free foods, for example, can help minimize plaque buildup. You can also find instruction on how to brush your pet’s teeth online or ask your vet for advice.
As with humans, the best protection is prevention and regular maintenance. A regular checkup will help keep your pet’s teeth happy and breath fresh.