How much do you know about your pet’s oral health? Chances are you’re in the dark about some important issues, including periodontal disease, the most common dental condition affecting dogs and cats.
Periodontal disease is an inflammation and/or infection of the gums and bone around the teeth, and according to the American Veterinary Dental Society, without proper dental care 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats develop some degree of gum disease by the time they’re three years old.
It starts with an accumulation of plaque, a soft, whitish-yellow deposit consisting of food, bacteria and other debris. At this point, it is still easily removed by brushing or wiping the teeth, but if it remains, mineral salts in the saliva cause it to harden into tartar or calculus, a hard yellow-brown deposit that can only be removed by professional cleaning.
As the tartar builds up, the gums become inflamed and infected, turning red, swollen and painful. They may separate from the teeth, creating pockets where more plaque, tartar and bacteria accumulate. In severe cases, pus may be seen coming from the tooth socket and the teeth may become so loose they fall out. This is accompanied by progressively worse smelling breath-always an indicator that something is wrong with your pet.
Periodontal disease can be very painful and debilitating. Your pet may have trouble eating or lose her appetite, appear dull and lacking in energy, be irritable or act like an older animal. In addition to direct effects in the mouth, there may be serious consequences throughout the body. The gums have a rich blood supply and bacteria and toxins can reach other organs through the blood, in particular the heart, liver and kidney. In the heart, they can settle on the valves, affecting their function and causing congestive heart failure, one of the more common causes of poor health and premature death in older animals. Inhalation of bacteria may also result in chronic lung disease. The effects become more severe as the pet ages and the immune system becomes exhausted or over-stimulated and chronic wear and tear takes its toll.
Once tartar has taken hold on your pet’s teeth, professional cleaning is essential to remove it and stop its progression. In mild cases with a cooperative animal, it may be possible to remove the tartar by hand scaling. More severe accumulation and infection requires a general anesthetic and ultrasonic cleaning. Gum surgery and extractions may also be necessary.
Following surgery, you can speed up your pet’s recovery using some natural remedies. Homeopathic Arnica 30C, derived from a group of plants in the sunflower family, will help to heal damaged tissue, reduce swelling and inflammation and relieve pain. It can be given every 2 hours for the first day, then gradually stopped over the next four or five days. If your veterinarian is open to the idea, a couple of pellets can be tucked under the lip immediately after surgery. For a small dog or cat the pellet can be crushed and the powder can be put under the lip.
Dr. Don Hamilton, author of Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs, recommends putting four or five drops of Rescue Remedy with a few pellets of Arnica in a dropper bottle with water and giving a few drops immediately after surgery, then every couple of hours for the first day and gradually decreasing the dose over the next few days.
Hypericum – commonly known as St. John’s Wort-is useful for any area that has a rich nerve supply such as the teeth and gums. Give a couple of pellets of Hypericum 30C the day of surgery and for a couple of days following. It is particularly appropriate when there have been extractions. Ruta graveolens 30C can also be used in a similar manner if extractions have caused damage to surrounded bone.
An excellent alternative is Traumeel. It contains a combination of several homeopathic remedies that control inflammation and support healing. It is readily available in liquid or tablet form at many health food stores or natural pharmacies. Dissolve two tablets in a dropper bottle with water and dose on the same schedule as the Arnica, 1/8 to 1/2 dropper depending on the size of your pet.
Calendula tincture diluted with water at a ratio of 1:10 will also help injured tissue. Using a syringe, gently coat the gums with the solution 2 or 3 times a day.
Once the mouth has healed, keep your pet’s teeth clean by removing plaque before it becomes tartar using a soft toothbrush of a suitable size, a rubber finger brush, or a piece of gauze. The frequency will depend on how readily your pet develops plaque. The quality of your pet’s diet as well as their overall health play a major role in determining this. If you want to use toothpaste, be sure to purchase one formulated for animals (never use your own). Be sure to examine your pet’s mouth regularly to catch oral health issues before they become serious problems.