In recognition of February being “Pet Dental Health Month”, let’s talk about your pet’s pearly whites! Some people are unaware that their pets can actually have some of the same dental problems that they may experience. These problems include, but are not limited to: broken teeth and roots, periodontal disease, cysts or tumors in the mouth, abscesses or infected teeth, misalignment of the bite, broken jaw, etc. At your pet’s annual check-up, your veterinarian will perform an oral examination of the mouth. They will look for any abnormalities and check for plaque and tartar build-up. Sometimes radiographs are necessary to evaluate the health of the jaw and tooth roots below the gum line.
Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition in dogs and cats and if your vet finds any indication of it, he or she may recommend a “dental cleaning”. This is a procedure performed under anesthesia and includes the scaling (removal of plaque and tartar) and polishing of the teeth. This is similar to a dental cleaning we have done at our own dentist’s office. Anesthesia is extremely necessary for veterinary dental cleanings because it is important that the animal remain completely still during the procedure, for their own safety as well as the veterinary staff. Anesthesia carries a small degree of risk but is safer now than ever before; the benefits of using it far outweigh the risks in most situations.
As mentioned above, your pet’s teeth should be checked at least once a year. Take your pet in sooner if you notice any of the following: bad breath, broken or loose teeth, retained baby teeth, discolored teeth, abnormal chewing or drooling, reduced appetite, pain or bleeding in the mouth, or swelling in or around the mouth. An animal in pain may not act as they normally do, so if you notice any behavioral changes, you should take them to your veterinarian as soon as possible. Be cautious when attempting to evaluate your pet’s mouth yourself, as an animal in pain may unexpectedly bite.
As with all health issues, prevention is key! A commonly asked question in a veterinary clinic is: “Should I be brushing my pet’s teeth?” The answer is YES! Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth is the single most effective thing you can do to keep their teeth and gums healthy. This may reduce the frequency or even eliminate the need for dental cleanings all together. If possible, start brushing your pet’s teeth when they are very young. Getting them accustomed to the activity as puppies and kittens will make the task eventually easier. Most dogs are a little easier to work with than cats, but as with all things, patience and consistency are important.
There are many different products including toothbrushes, toothpaste, chew toys, and dental-specific diets and treats that are marketed to improve dental health in dogs and cats. However, when a product is effective with one animal, it does not always mean it will be effective for another. When considering any of these products, we highly recommend visiting with your veterinarian about them first! And don’t forget to brush, brush, brush! We’d be happy to give you a demonstration at your next dental check up!