Your guide to holistic dental care

A thorough examination inside the mouth forms part of any holistic exam in veterinary medicine. Checking the tongue for colour, size, shape and character is part of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) exam. We also like to get a good look at your pet’s teeth.

Some cats and dogs are reluctant to have their mouths opened. I find a gentle approach works well. A treat, and time to smell my hands, will relax most anxious patients. Some Rescue Remedy licked off my fingers also helps.

As part of a dental exam, special stains can be used to detect plaque. Plaque contains bacteria, and if left untreated leads to gingivitis (inflammation and retraction of gums), and periodontal disease (the progressive destruction of periodontal tissues, gums, connective tissue and bone which may result in loss of teeth). Calculus is the hard brown deposit which forms on the outside of teeth from minerals contained in saliva. It leads to further plaque accumulation.

Calculus may begin to accumulate only a few days after a dental procedure- which is why dental prophylaxis must begin as soon as teeth are cleaned. In cats we look for painful odontoclastic resorptive lesions. In young pets we check for malocclusion or overbites. Dogs and cats with poor dentition may require extra prophylactic care, and may not be able to chew bones or dental treats.

Pets with oral pain may chew to one side, eat more slowly, lose weight, or drop their food. Their breath often smells putrid. We may detect tension in their neck, and trigger points in the triceps as indicators of dental pain.

Pets with hair around their mouths can get this hair trapped around teeth, leading to infections and gum disease. Ideally this hair should be regularly clipped back.

Research shows links between dental problems and underlying illnesses such as kidney disease, cardiac disease, respiratory disease and immune imbalance in people as well as in pets. In TCM the Kidney is responsible for the growth of bones and teeth – so pets with poor teeth may have an imbalance of the Kidney meridian. Gingivitis may be a sign of Stomach or Heart Fire. So as well as treating dental disease, we look for and treat underlying health issues that have either been caused by, or have lead to the dental problem.

Apart from early plaque, most dental problems will need to be dealt with properly, using a dental ultrasound unit. We all know how unpleasant a visit to the dentist is, and the uncomfortable experience of having all those buzzing and spraying things in your mouth. Cats and dogs rarely tolerate any dental work without anaesthesia. Occasionally, if anaesthesia is regarded as too risky, some hand cleaning may be undertaken with sedation alone. In my experience this type of clean clean is not as thorough as that done under anaesthesia, and will need to be repeated every three to four months.

Carried out gently and safely under anaesthesia, dental problems can be fixed, and this might be the best thing you can do for your pet’s heath and quality of life.

Steps to a less stressful dental proceedure

  1. Treat any underlying illness first. Cardiac diseases, respiratory disease, diabetes and kidney disease can all be stabilised prior to anaesthesia.
  2. Use antibiotics. As holistic vets we try to find alternatives to antibiotic use much of the time. However it is important to clear any infection prior to dental work especially if your pet has kidney or cardiac disease. Judicious use of probiotics, and careful dosing, will minimise gut problems.
  3. Minimise stress. begin to use Rescue Remedy twice daily in drinking water in the week prior to the dental, and rub a few drops in  ears every 15 minutes on surgery day.
  4. Make sure your pet has preanaesthetic blood tests. This is important for younger pets, as well as old. Detection of any liver or kidney disease will ensure that anaesthetic and pain relief medications are the the safest for your pet
  5. Intravenous fluids during the procedure will maximise safety and recovery
  6. stop fish oil and ginkgo seven days beforehand
  7. Use some liver support eg Milk Thistle five days before and after the anaesthesia
  8. Homeopathic arnica will help prevent shock and bruising. Hypericum is useful for injury to nerves.
  9. If you pet has extractions, acupressure to LI4 ( in the thumb crease) for 60 seconds can help relieve pain. You pet may also require pain relief medications and or homeopathic Traumeel.

Since it is preferable to avoid anesthetic procedures wherever possible, preventive measures are particularly important.

This usually begins with diet. Once healed, change gradually to a diet which includes raw meaty bones or raw chunks of meat. Not all dogs and cats chew bones well. Lamb and Beef shanks will be too hard and may fracture teeth. Bones should be supervised and not given to dogs who swallow them whole. Raw chunks of tough sinuous meat as a part of the daily diet are frequently just as effective.

Most pets require some home cleaning to maintain clean teeth. Veterinary dental specialists regard daily brushing as the best way to prevent dental disease. This is something you may need to train your pet to tolerate. Tooth paste is not essential, but a flavoured paste may make the job more tolerable. Alternatives include baking soda, or aloe vera gel rubbed gently onto gums to help prevent gingivitis. Antioxidant CoEnzyme Q10 will promote healthy gums.

Steps to teach your pet to tolerate teeth brushing

  1. Begin slowly, using a washer or some gauze to wipe your pet’s teeth, front and back.
  2. Do this daily for about two weeks until your dog or cat becomes familiar with the approach.
  3. Take the pet toothbrush, soaked in warm water and start brushing daily for several days. When your pet relaxes with the brushing,  you can add the pet toothpaste, aloe or barcarbonate.
  4. Make sure you brush the gum margins. Make small circles, and clean between the teeth as well as behind them if possible.
  5. Reward your pet with a treat or a hug.

So take this essential step to maintain your pet’s wellness: have your pet’s teeth checked regularly. That is at least every six months, by your vet, or vet nurse trained in animal dental care.


Karen Goldrick

Karen Goldrick

Karen Goldrick is a holistic veterinarian at All Natural Vet Care, Russell Lea, Sydney, Australia.

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