There are 42 adult teeth in the dog and 30 adult teeth in the cat. As a result of domestication and commercially prepared foods, the need for most of the teeth in the pet’s mouth has diminished considerably. The most important teeth, however, are the “cutting” teeth (upper 4th premolar and lower first molar) and probably the canine teeth. There are, due to varying circumstances, some individual pets with no teeth at all and they do very well without them!
As is the case with our own mouths, every pet develops a daily film of plaque. Unlike ourselves, however, most of the time this plaque is allowed to accumulate to form tarter or calculus. As tarter forms it traps bacteria against the gums that results in gingivitis. Gingivitis leads to a progressive periodontal disease with the formation of deep pockets. As the infection spreads down the periodontal ligament toward the apex of the tooth an endodontic problem develops. The resulting bone loss that occurs and abscess formation will result in pain and loss of the tooth.
In pet’s, the most common reason for infection of the apex of the tooth, is a broken tooth. We all know how difficult it can be to control what your pet eats or plays with, especially outside the house, so fractured teeth can occur sometimes with out our even being aware of it. In every case, once the tooth is broken and the pulp chamber is exposed the tooth becomes infected and begins to die. The good news is that within a few days the nerve has died and the pain will diminish. The bad news is that the infection will result in an abscess. Depending on the length of the tooth, it may take months to years before you will be aware of it.
A study done approximately 5 years ago showed that the bacteria in the mouth gets picked up by the blood stream and is carried to the kidneys and heart. This occurs due to the fact that the gums have a rich blood supply and are the most biologically active tissues in the entire body. Kidney failure and heart disease can therefore be initiated from the bacteria picked up in the mouth. A clean, healthy mouth is the best way for you to avoid these dangers in your pet and improve the quality of life too!
In order to maintain a healthy mouth, most pets will need an annual professional scaling and polishing, just like you and I. Brushing your pet’s teeth daily will help to remove the soft plaque before it hardens to the tarter. There is a special toothpaste made for dogs and cats that does not need to be rinsed from the mouth like ours does. Ideally, brushing should start when all the permanent teeth have erupted (about 6 months of age). Brushing can be done successfully with older pet’s too as long as you take your time (60 seconds) and make it a pleasant experience with plenty of rewards to condition your pet. Getting into a routine is the hardest part for you the owner but pays big dividends for the pet. Your pet will thank you by staying healthier and living longer. While it is never too late to start brushing yours pet’s teeth, for the best results I recommend that you first get a dental exam and then have a professional scaling and polishing performed. Your veterinarian can discuss the best products to use and brushing techniques for proper home care of the teeth and gums.