Oral health is just as important for our pets as it is for us. Pets experience many of the same dental issues as humans, like tartar buildup, cavities, periodontal disease, fractured teeth, and oral tumors. Some of these can be painful and affect your pet’s ability to eat and drink normally. Oral pain can also make your pet depressed, and cause him to interact less with your family.
If infected teeth are not addressed, bacteria can gain access to the bloodstream and can travel to the lungs, heart, kidneys, brain, and liver. This can create dangerous infections within these organs, and dramatically shorten your pet’s life.
Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to keep your pet’s mouth healthy and pain-free.
Regular Oral Exams
The first step to dental health is by scheduling regular oral exams with your pet’s veterinarian. This can be done during your pet’s annual or semiannual wellness exam. If your veterinarian finds any concerns inside the mouth, he will recommend that your pet have a professional dental cleaning performed right away.
The procedure for cleaning your pet’s teeth is basically the same as when we have our teeth cleaned. The veterinarian or veterinary technician scales and polishes the teeth with specialized instruments. Teeth that are mildly infected may be saved with an oral antibiotic gel treatment, but severely infected teeth will most likely be extracted. Don’t worry – Fido and Fluffy will feel much better after their mouth is healed, and will not miss those painful, infected teeth.
One key difference between our dental cleanings and our pets’ is the use of general anesthesia. Unfortunately, most pets will not say “Ahhhh” for 45 minutes or more while their vet scrapes, polishes and pulls teeth. Anesthesia keeps your pet and the veterinary staff safe during the procedure. This can be a concern for some pet owners, but pre-surgical testing, modern drugs and monitoring techniques make anesthesia very safe, even for very old or chronically ill pets. The benefits of a disease-free mouth outweigh any of the risks.
The idea of brushing your pet’s teeth may seem silly, but it is essential to a healthy mouth. Just think about what your teeth would look and feel like if you never brushed them!
Brushing your pet’s teeth at least once daily is the gold standard for the prevention of tartar buildup, which often leads to more serious issues. Most pets will need to be trained to accept tooth brushing, but this can be a very simple and enjoyable process for both of you.
Make sure to use a soft-bristled pet toothbrush, and toothpaste specifically made for pets. Start by letting your pet become accustomed to the taste of the toothpaste, and slowly work your way up to using the toothbrush. Many videos are available online to demonstrate the process, or you can ask your veterinarian to teach you during your next appointment.
Food, Treats and Water Additives
A variety of treats, diets, and water additives that have been proven to improve dental health are available from pet stores and from your veterinarian. These products have been approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council to reduce plaque and tarter buildup, and to improve breath. Be sure to look for the VOHC symbol on the packaging. These things should not be used as a substitute for brushing, but can be used in conjunction with brushing and regular veterinary dental care to help keep your pet’s mouth healthy.
Now that you understand the importance of dental care for your pets, why not head on down to your veterinarian’s office to pick up some supplies. Happy brushing!
Chris Campbell is a veterinary technician with12+ years in the field. His experience and education have given him a solid background in veterinary medicine & all things pet health-related. His ambition is to share his knowledge with pet parents so their ‘babies’ can live a long, healthy life!