February is Pet Dental Health Month, and as specialists in the world of pet health and vet emergency care, we know that many pet owners need a reminder to make their pets’ dental health a priority. Dental hygiene affects nearly every aspect of your pet’s overall health. Your pet’s dental health is just as important as your own.
Periodontal disease is when the supportive structures around the tooth become inflamed or infected. It is the most common major health concern for dogs and cats in the US. The American Veterinary Dental Society reports that over 80% of dogs and 70% of cats start to show signs of dental disease by the time they turn three years old.
While dental treats and chew toys may delay plaque and tartar build-up, they are not enough to completely prevent periodontal disease or plaque build-up. Just like it is for us, regular brushing and dental health checkups are necessary for maintaining good oral health.
How to Maintain Your Pet’s Dental Hygiene
It’s just as important to regularly brush your pet’s teeth as it is to brush your own. It’s best to start this dental cleaning routine early in your pet’s life. Starting this routine in their puppy or kitten years will help you reduce both of your stress levels. Veterinarians recommend daily brushing, but most people aim for 3-5 times a week.
It is recommended to always have your veterinarian examine your pet’s mouth before starting a brushing routine on pets older than one year. This is because brushing teeth with plaque build-up or other issues can spread the bacteria up under the gum line. To prevent this spread, along with unnecessary discomfort for your pet, schedule a check-up with your veterinarian before starting your dental routine.
When choosing a toothpaste and brush, remember that not all human products are appropriate for pets. Never use human toothpaste as it is toxic to your pet. There are pet-friendly toothpastes that come in flavors such as mint, chicken, and beef. You have many choices when it comes to pet toothbrushes. There are brushes made specifically for pets with extra-long handles and an angled brush head. Soft-bristled children’s brushes also work well for dog mouths.
For better cooperation during the toothbrushing process, start by offering your pet a taste of the toothpaste each day around the same time. This creates a scheduled daily brushing time and pets appreciate routine. After about a week, it’s time to bring out the brush. Going slow and rewarding often with training treats or toothpaste will help ensure success.
The best way to brush your pet’s teeth is to hold the brush at a 45-degree angle from the gum line, then clean in small, circular motions. About 6-8 circular motions are sufficient. Remember that your pet may require some breaks during the brushing routine. Even the most well-behaved pet isn’t used to having someone in their mouth. Dividing their mouth into six sections can help you learn how long they will tolerate brushing without a break, and help you keep track of what you’ve already brushed. These sections are the top left, top center, top right, bottom left, bottom center, bottom right. Remember to inspect your pet’s mouth when you brush and keep notes of any changes.
Below are some of the signs off dental disease. If you notice any of these symptoms, call your veterinarian:
- Bad breath
- Decreased appetite, only willing to eat soft foods
- Abnormal chewing, chewing with a head tilt
- Lethargy, depression
- Broken, loose teeth
- Red, inflamed gums that may bleed
- Increased salivating
- Discharge from the mouth, nose, or eyes
- Masses or lumps in or around the mouth
- Signs of oral pain- such as pawing at face
- Facial swelling
Untreated dental issues may affect your pet’s kidneys, liver, and heart. The problem starts when plaque on the teeth hardens into tartar, which can creep under the gum and cause infections. Advanced periodontal disease requires veterinary treatments, including dental cleaning under anesthesia and x-rays to understand the extent of the disease.
Annual Cleaning and Anesthesia
In addition to regular brushing and inspection, it’s important to have your veterinarian examine your pet’s mouth annually. Your vet will recommend anesthetic dental cleanings every so often as a way to deep clean their mouth. Sometimes another option is an anesthesia-free dental (also known as non-anesthetic dental), a cleaning where your pet is awake.
Anesthesia-free dental procedures do not use medications to sedate your pet. These procedures are a good way to remove tartar and provide a deeper clean than your home brushing. These dental procedures are not as thorough as anesthetic dental procedures due to the pet’s comfort level and cooperation.
Anesthetic dental procedures are when your pet is given medication that puts them to sleep. This allows your vet to deep clean your pet’s teeth and gums. Anesthesia also allows your vet to take x-rays of your pet’s mouth, which helps them to diagnose damage under the gum line. Lastly, anesthesia allows your veterinarian to extract any damaged or diseased teeth. All of these items are important to maintain your pet’s health and comfort. Your pet’s mouth may be sensitive for a couple of days, but they typically bounce right back to normal the next day.
Before administering any anesthesia, your vet will complete a physical and bloodwork. This is to verify that they are healthy enough to process the medications. If your pet has certain medical conditions your vet will discuss the potential risks and benefits with you. If your pet isn’t healthy enough to go under anesthesia, your vet will discuss your other options.
Celebrate Pet Dental Health Month this February with a new dedication to improve your pet’s dental hygiene, and don’t forget to schedule your pet’s annual dental check-up.