5 Things You Need to Know about Your Pet's Dental Health

Posted February 12, 2019 @ 12:36pm | by Heidi Olivier

As a full-time Veterinary Technician Specialist in Dentistry, I see a whole lot of animal teeth! I’m talking about the good, the bad and the ugly. My wish for pet owners is that they understand the importance of quality dental care and the difference it can make in a pet’s quality of life. Here’s a short-list of five things I want pet owners to know about their pet’s dental and oral health.

1. Dental and oral care starts on day one.

Getting a pet is a very exciting time! Be sure to ask your veterinarian if your puppy or kitten’s occlusion, or bite, looks normal. A malocclusion, or misaligned bite, can be detected from an early age. Often, if ignored and untreated, it can lead to infection and chronic pain.

[Puppy with a class 2 malocclusion. The mandible, or jaw, is too short, causing a traumatic occlusion and dental interlock.]

Brushing the teeth every day is the gold standard in maintaining oral health. Practice lifting your pet’s lips and begin a daily tooth brushing routine. Reward your pet with a small treat, walk or special play time for cooperating. When your pet sees you pull out the toothbrush, they’ll associate the reward with tooth brushing! For more tips on how to get your pet accustomed to brushing, check out this link: Brushing in 4 Easy Steps. If your pet is older, it’s not too late to start brushing, although it’s best to start after your pet’s annual dental cleaning, when the mouth is nice and clean. Which leads me to #3…

2. Your pet needs annual dental care.

Chew on this: humans brush their teeth twice a day and we still need to have our teeth cleaned and evaluated twice a year. Your pet, on the other hand, may or may not be getting his teeth brushed, and as we know, our pets age faster than us. The American Animal Hospital Association recommends annual dental cleanings, under anesthesia, with dental x-rays “beginning at age one for cats and small to medium-breed dogs and at two years of age for large-breed dogs.”1 Without dental care, harmful bacteria seep under the gumline causing pain and infection, leading to irreversible periodontal disease.

[Severe periodontal disease in an upper fourth premolar of a dog. Black arrows show tooth root abscesses.]

3. Yes, dental radiographs (or x-rays) are important.

I hear it all the time, “Does Fluffy really need dental x-rays?” The truth is that approximately two-thirds of the tooth is below the gumline, which makes it impossible to tell if a tooth is healthy just by looking at it. Full mouth radiographs are recommended annually, coinciding with the oral examination and cleaning (under anesthesia.)

[Extracted maxillary canine tooth in a medium-sized patient. Tooth above the red line is the tooth root, normally found below the gumline. Below the red line is the crown. Quarter for size reference.]

If you still need convincing, consider that one report recently showed that when dental radiographs are taken of teeth that look fine to the naked eye, they revealed issues that needed to be addressed in 28% of dogs and 42% of cats! 2

[Maxillary premolar in a dog. The tooth looks normal upon visual exam, but dental radiographs reveal a missing root tip. Black arrows show missing tooth root.]

4. Some chew toys are just too hard.

Take a stroll down any pet aisle and you’ll see dozens of chews, toys or bones that claim to be the miracle cure-all for your pet’s teeth. In actuality, no one thing is going to give your pet a sparkly fresh smile. Chewing is a natural and healthy behavior. That being said, real bones, antlers and nylon style bones are just too hard. Hard items tend to break teeth, which we know can lead to pain and infection if left untreated. For a comprehensive list of products that have been scientifically proven to benefit your pet’s oral health, visit the Veterinary Oral Health Council website at VOHC.org.

5. Senior pets need (and deserve) dental care, too.

We owe it to our senior pets to make their golden years as comfortable as possible. Sometimes, owners decline treatment because they’re afraid anesthetizing a senior pet will be too risky. The risk of anesthetic death in both dogs and cats is less than 1%, but statistics aren’t always reassuring. However, allowing your veterinarian to address your fears might alleviate them. Ask about the risks of anesthesia for your pet’s breed, weight, and age. You might also inquire what can be done before, during, and after a procedure to reduce risks. Lastly, you could what steps will be taken if your pet has a crisis while under anesthesia.

Sometimes, we don’t pursue dental work for our senior pets because they are “old”. But lingering pain and infection from periodontal disease takes a heavy toll on the kidneys and heart, too. Some diseases, like diabetes, have even been shown to be more easily regulated with a clean, healthy mouth. If you’re having reservations about pursuing dental treatment in your dog or cat, talk with your family veterinarian. Be up front about your concerns and decide together what the best course of treatment is.

We hope this article has inspired you to take action to improve your pet’s dental health! And if you’re already on top of it, keep up the good work!

1.) 2013 AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. Steven E. Holmstrom, Jan Bellows, Stephen Juriga, Kate Knutson, Brook A. Niemiec and Jeanne Perrone. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association Mar 2013, Vol. 49, No. 2 (March/April 2013) pp. 75-82

2.) Diagnostic value of full-mouth radiography in dogs. Verstraete FJ, Kass PH, Terpack CH. AVJR, 1998 Jun; 59 (6): 686-91. Diagnostic value of full-mouth radiography in cats. Verstraete FJ, Kass PH, Terpack CH. AVJR, 1998 Jun; 59 (6): 692-5.



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