What do I Need to Know About Dental Health for my Pet?

IT’S FEBURARY!!!! This is a very exciting month in my world of veterinary medicine!! “Why,” you ask???  WELL it is National Dental Month for pets. This means that the veterinary world is trying to focus attention on dental health for our patients!! Dr. Mavis loves dentistry for the furry babies!!! I personally am not very fond of the dentist -- that is really another story – but I can talk to clients about dentistry and do dentals on pets all day long.

One thing I love is educating clients on how important dental health is to the overall health of a pet. Most owners do not think about teeth except as something needed for eating. But I often hear complaints about how bad a cat's or dog's mouth smells!! Well let’s just think about this… How many times a day do you brush your teeth?? Floss your teeth?? Rinse with antibacterial mouthwash?? (Maybe I should have asked how many times a day you are supposed to do it.) At a minimum, most people brush their teeth twice a day. How many times a day do you brush your pet's teeth? I can guess that the majority of people (after laughing at the question) will answer maybe once a week or the groomer does it every 8 – 12 weeks. If you only brushed your teeth once every 8 – 12 weeks I really wouldn’t want to be too close to you. Truly, the big thing to worry about is all the bacteria that gets caught up in the mouth under all that tartar. It not only causes terrible periodontal disease (tooth and bone loss), but also can cause issues with internal organs like kidney and liver.

An alarming statistic is that up to 85% of dogs and cats over the age of 3 have dental disease. Dental disease is not “normal” in pets. Dental tartar and halitosis (that stinky bad breath of that adorable little critter that wants to kiss you all the time) is a source of infection in animals. It is painful and will progress to tooth loss. So our pets that have this dental tartar and halitosis need a dental procedure to correct the issues. It is not possible to do a proper dental cleaning on animals unless they are under anesthesia. Animals need to be under general anesthesia so we can ultrasonically scale the inside and outside of the teeth as well as beneath the gum line. Simply removing the tartar on the outside of the teeth – so-called “awake dentistry -- does the animal no good and is a waste of your money. Another thing to think of when considering having a dental done on your precious pet is making sure your veterinarian is taking dental radiographs. There are many diseases that lie beneath the gum line (tooth root abscesses, fractured teeth and bone loss) that you would never know about without taking radiographs (or X-rays). If your pet has a dental procedure done and dental radiographs are not taken, again you are wasting your money and not helping your pet, as he/she will still be in just as much pain as before the dental procedure. Once the diseased teeth are identified they can be extracted and/or possibly have a root canal.

After your pet has had a dental and the diseased teeth are taken care of (most of the time by extraction), your pet will feel so much better. I also never worry about how many teeth are removed. Owners are always worried about this especially when you get into the double digits. Dogs have 42 teeth in their mouth originally. I have seen dogs w/less than 10 teeth in their mouth (some zero) but they are healthy teeth and they feel so much better. Clients tell me how much better their pet feels after a dental and the periodontal disease is addressed. They are embarrassed that they didn’t realize how bad their pet felt before the dental. Those furry babies usually start eating better and are far more active.

So I challenge you look at your pet's mouth (or if you up for a real challenge, get up close and personal and smell your pet's breath. If you can’t see nice shiny, bright, white teeth, you need to immediately go see your favorite veterinarian and sign up for a dental. Remember it is National Dental Month and many veterinarians run specials in February, trying to encourage our clients to make their pets healthier and address the disease that is present.

Other resources you may find interesting:

Smile!  Dental Care for Your Pet

Video sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association on how to brush your pet's teeth