The Tooth, the Whole Tooth and Nothing But the Tooth

The Problem with Tartar

Just recently I’ve been undergoing periodontal treatment at the dentist. You know, the ever-fun root planing and scraping to get rid of built up tartar and bacteria below the gum line. Not really a fun procedure, to be sure, but necessary. While I was lying in that dentist chair as the hygienist was scraping away, I remembered that people aren’t the only ones who suffer from tooth tartar.

Tony the Ginger Tabby

As a teenager, I got a sweet kitten I named Tony. He was such a great cat. I’d pour out my teenaged heart to him and he’d sit on my bed and listen. He was my best friend and confidant. As Tony grew older, I’d have to take him to the vet for the occasional problem, but during one visit, my vet suggested that I get Tony’s teeth cleaned because he had a bit of tartar buildup. Until that point, I hadn’t really thought about animals needing their teeth cleaned. After all, they were animals. They didn’t need to brush their teeth. In fact, they couldn’t even if they wanted, they don’t have thumbs.

But, after the vet showed me the yellowish tartar on Tony’s teeth, and then proceeded to explain how tartar buildup can actually cause gum disease and damage the teeth. Well, of course I didn’t want my Tony to suffer, so I agreed to a teeth cleaning. Luckily, when a vet cleans an animal’s teeth, they anesthetize the animal to make it easier. That made me feel a bit better as I hated the thought of having my baby traumatized.

So, the big day came and I took Tony to the vet and left him all day. I was going to pick him up at the end of the day. I was expecting to see a set of shiny white teeth when I got him, but instead, I got a disappointment. While the anesthesia had worn off, poor Tony was miserable. His gums were all inflamed and looked as though they’d been bleeding.

The vet did explain that this was normal because he’d scraped the teeth around and just beneath the gums, but still, I was really concerned. Seeing Tony in pain was horrible. I took him home and gave him a nice grooming session, which he loved. But when I tried to feed him, he licked at the food and then just walked away. I panicked. Tony had always loved to eat. I called the vet right away and he assured me that his gums were probably just a bit sore.

The After Effects

For almost three days Tony didn’t eat. He did drink water, but very slowly. I could tell he was in pain. I’d called the vet again the second day, but was again told there was nothing to worry about. Then, on the third day, Tony finally ate his food! I wanted to see what his mouth looked like, so I did. Tony was always very accommodating when I needed to give him a pill or check in his mouth, so this was easy. To my surprise, his teeth were white and his gums looked a healthy pale pink.

While the experience wasn’t exactly easy and pain free, the after effects of the cleaning were that Tony’s teeth were healthy. Since I now knew what healthy teeth and tartared teeth looked like, I gave Tony an exam every now and then. As he aged, he did get more tartar on his teeth, but it was never so bad, so I didn’t put him through another cleaning.

Keeping Tartar at Bay

The experience with Tony made me more conscious of the balance between healthy eating and dental hygiene. After Tony died, I got another cat, and after that one, another and another. I’d done the research to know that animals in the wild keep their teeth clean and healthy by chewing on hard things like bones. As hard substances are chewed on, teeth are cleaned. For our beloved pets, hard dry food like kibble and rawhide chew toys help rid the teeth of tartar buildup.

Plaque, which causes tartar is actually caused when bacteria, saliva and little pieces of food mix together to form a sticky mess that coats teeth. For people, regular brushing and flossing can get rid of the sticky plaque, but for animals, if they don’t have some way of scraping the plaque off their teeth, they’ll get tartar buildup just like us.

I remember seeing statistics that said something like 80 percent of our pets have gum disease. Part of this high percentage is probably due to the moist canned foods we feed our pets. When the tartar causes periodontal disease, the bone surrounding the teeth can actually be destroyed and lost. This can cause loose teeth and a deep ‘pocket’ around the tooth where the gum has receded. This is why it’s important to make sure your pet’s teeth are clean. Once tartar and plaque has deposited on teeth, simply brushing won’t get rid of it. This was why my vet had to scale Tony’s teeth.

Healthy Teeth

To keep your pet’s teeth healthy, it’s a good idea to have their teeth brushed regularly. Pet stores sell a variety of tooth brushes and toothpastes designed for pets, but I personally would never try to brush my cat’s teeth. Dogs are likely more easy to deal with. If you’re lucky enough to have an accommodating cat, they you might be able to brush their teeth, but more likely than not, you’ll have to take your pet to the vet for a brushing.

Also, pet stores sell all sorts of chewy toys for dogs to help removed particles of food and bacteria, but unfortunately there’s not really anything for cats, as cats don’t regularly chew on things. One important thing to remember is that pets should never be given small bones that can splinter and get caught in their throats or cut up their stomachs or intestines.

It seems ironic that we try to do everything for our pets, but by feeding them processed wet canned food, we might actually be helping to hurt their teeth. Thank goodness that there’s a lot of information out there to help us figure out how to do everything we can to keep our babies safe and healthy.



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