Dental care is an important part of your pet’s overall health. Left untreated, dental disease can lead to problems within the mouth such as pain, bad breath, and tooth loss but can also cause disease elsewhere in the body, like the heart and kidneys. While your veterinarian can diagnose and treat these problems, it is preferable to avoid them if possible. Below are some steps you can take to keep your pet healthy by keeping their mouth healthy.
- Home dental care: Studies have shown that daily tooth brushing is the single most effective tool to reduce plaque and tartar. While it helps to start introducing a toothbrush to your pet when they are still young, almost all dogs and cats can be trained to accept having their teeth brushed. There are a variety of brush options, but the most important consideration is using pet-friendly toothpaste. Pet toothpaste is safe to swallow and comes in flavors like seafood and chicken. If your pet is not tolerant of tooth brushing, there are still other good options for providing at home dental care, including oral rinses, dental diets and dental chews.
When purchasing products, look for The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Acceptance. Also remember that while chewing can decrease plaque, the American Veterinary Dental College does not recommend pets chewing on hard objects such as natural bones, cow hooves or antlers because it can lead to tooth fractures.
- Routine oral exam: At every wellness visit, we check your pet’s mouth for signs of dental disease. We assess the teeth for tartar, root exposure and look for obvious fractures. We also check the gingiva (gums) for inflammation, as evidenced by swelling or bleeding. Additionally we examine the outside of the mouth, checking the surrounding tissues for any abnormalities. When the pet will tolerate it, we also examine the palate, tongue and pharynx as best possible. However, even with the most cooperative of pets, exams while pets are awake are somewhat limited, which is part of the reason regular dental prophylaxis (cleanings) are important.
- Prophylaxis (Cleanings): Even with excellent home care, tartar will accumulate on the surface of the teeth. A prophylaxis is a dental cleaning procedure done under anesthesia that includes a thorough oral exam and cleaning (scale and polish) of your pet’s teeth. Generally, routine dental cleanings begin for small/toy breed dogs and cats around the age of three, while large breeds can begin regular cleanings at the age of five; however this varies by individual and breed and is dependent on your pet’s overall health assessment. Please discuss the specifics of this procedure with your veterinarian to see if it is right for your pet. If advanced disease is present, dental radiographs and extractions (surgical removal of teeth) may be needed; however our goal is to prevent the need for this with early interventions.
Another good source of information for pet owners is the American Veterinary Dental College.