Do you brush your teeth every day? Well, I hope you do. Do you brush your pet’s teeth even weekly? Monthly? Ever? It’s recommended you brush your pet’s teeth two to three times a week, but many owners don’t. February is Pet Dental Health Month, which is designed to bring awareness to a big problem: dental disease is the most commonly diagnosed problem in dogs and cats. We think dental health is something that pet people should pay attention to all year round, but this gives us a chance to educate those who may not know how important it is!
By the age of 3, 80% of pets have some form of periodontal disease. When plaque begins to build up it is soft, but over time it becomes calcified and makes it easier for more plaque to accumulate. The bacteria and tartar eat away at the teeth and gums, causing lesions, infections, and even bone loss. Plaque then begins to build under the gum line, eroding the tooth root and other support structures. This can lead to tooth loss and abscesses which go unseen, but cause acute pain to your pet. Bacteria is swallowed and enters the bloodstream through the damaged gums, making its way to the heart and other organs. Untreated periodontal disease can lead to kidney and liver disease, and heart problems.
Symptoms of severe dental problems in your pet can include excessive drooling or licking, red or bleeding gums, pawing at the mouth, trouble chewing food, loose teeth, tumors on the gums, facial swelling (especially under the eyes), and bad breath. Your veterinarian will examine your dog or cat’s mouth and look for any problems at their regular wellness exam, but if you notice any of these signs at other times, it’s best to set an appointment to have them evaluated.
When we prepare your pet for a dental cleaning, blood tests are done to evaluate all the systems that may be affected by dental disease and to assess your pet’s suitability for anesthesia. Your veterinarian will do a full physical exam. Once sedated, all teeth are scaled and polished to prevent future plaque buildup and the dental technician charts the appearance of all teeth for future reference. Pockets in the gum, where it has separated from the tooth, are measured and we examine the teeth under the gum thoroughly, where most problems are. Dental x-rays are done to check for abscesses, bone loss, and other problems that can’t be seen with the naked eye. If any teeth need to be extracted, the veterinarian removes them and assesses the site. The vet will communicate with you and let you know of any serious findings. We also take before and after pictures, to show the severity of the problem and the improvement from cleaning.
After a dental, your pet’s doctor will advise you what aftercare you will need to provide. This may include antibiotics, anti-plaque rinses, regular brushing, a prescription diet, special treats or chews, and regular brushing. While gingivitis and infection can be reversed, bone loss and pockets cannot. Make sure to maintain your pet’s healthy teeth once they have been cleaned to avoid pain and tooth loss. Regular exams and yearly dental cleanings will keep their mouth in its best possible shape.
Here is a great video from the AVMA with Dr. Sheldon Rubin demonstrating how to brush your pet’s teeth.