Dental Corner: Educate your clients about dental home care for their pets

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May 01, 2007


Daniel T. Carmichael, DVM, DAVDC
The consequences of poor dental health go way beyond bad breath. Periodontal infection is linked to serious health concerns ranging from tooth loss to bacterial infection of the heart, liver, and kidneys.1 It's also no secret that dental problems are common in animals, with periodontal disease at or near the top of the list of the most commonly diagnosed diseases in adult dogs and cats.2 When our animal patients receive good dental care, they undoubtedly live longer and better lives.

The specific dental problem we strive to prevent is periodontal disease, which is related to the presence of plaque bacteria on the tooth surface. The goal of dental home care is to remove plaque to retard calculus accumulation on the tooth surface. Plaque bacteria can colonize a clean tooth in 24 to 36 hours. So within a few days of a professional dental cleaning, a pet's teeth are already accumulating the bacteria that will again cause periodontal inflammation and disease. The good news is that home care can prevent this accumulation.

Unfortunately, what is best for our patients isn't always what gets done. Unscientific polls of veterinarians attending continuing -education lectures confirm that many pets, even those owned by veterinarians, go without dental home care. In some cases, the reason is the pet itself (e.g. the pet bites or runs away). But in many cases, it simply boils down to a lack of adequate client education or a lack of motivation on the pet owner's part. As veterinarians, our job is not only to educate our clients about the available products to perform home care, but more important, to motivate clients by underscoring the serious nature of the disease we are trying to prevent.

GETTING STARTED

Dental home care for veterinary patients starts at the veterinary office. Patients must be evaluated for dental disease and treated, if necessary, before a home care program is begun. Eighty percent of dogs over the age of 3 and at least 50% of cats have advanced periodontal disease that requires immediate professional treatment.2 Professional dental treatment, performed when needed and while a pet is anesthetized, is the cornerstone of preventive dental health for our patients. On average, dogs and cats benefit from an annual prophylaxis starting at the age of 3, but each patient needs an individualized dental program.

As part of your canine patients' dental programs, consider incorporating a recently developed bacterin to prevent periodontitis (alveolar bone loss). The bacterin (Porphyro monas Denticanis-Gulae-Salivosa Bacterin—Pfizer Animal Health) is conditionally licensed for vaccinating healthy dogs to help prevent periodontitis associated with Porphyromas gulae, Porphyromas salivosa, and Porphyromonas denticanis—the three most common black-pigmented anaerobic bacteria isolated from dogs with periodontitis.3 A reasonable expectation of this bacterin's efficacy has been shown in experimental studies.4 A clinical trial is currently under way that evaluates the safety and efficacy of the bacterin in client-owned dogs. However, study results are not yet available. This bacterin, in addition to annual prophylaxis and daily home care, is yet another means of preventing periodontal disease.

Dental home care is contraindicated in pets with painful dental problems, including feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions and fractured teeth with exposed pulp. In fact, the discomfort caused by trying to brush a painful tooth may adversely condition the pet to fear future attempts at home care. So home care, especially feeding a textured dental diet, should be instituted only after appropriate professional treatment has established a clean and healthy mouth (except in the youngest and healthiest of patients).5 Ideally, dental home care programs should be started in puppies and kittens before any dental pathology has started.