February is National Pet Dental Health Month

Do you have questions about taking care of your pet’s teeth? We’ve answered some commonly asked questions below:

I’ve heard dental problems are common in dogs and cats, how will I know if my pet has a dental problem?

Dental disease is a common disease in dogs and cats. The American Veterinary Medical Association(AVMA) reports that 80% of dogs and 70% of all cats have some kind of oral disease by the age of 3. Look for redness at the gum line or bleeding gums as well as tartar accumulation on or around the teeth. Other signs of mouth discomfort like abnormal chewing, excessive drooling, reduced appetite or bad breath may indicate dental disease and it is time to contact us for a dental exam and a teeth cleaning.

What is tartar and why is it so bad?

Bacteria naturally inhabit our mouths as well as our pets’ mouths. Bacteria live on food remnants and combined with saliva form an invisible layer on the teeth of a sticky substance called plaque. Plaque accumulation will eventually harden and thicken around the base of the tooth at the gum line and become visible as tartar. You can spot tartar by its yellow or brownish color. As tartar collects on the tooth, it will irritate the gums, causing inflammation or gingivitis. If the tartar is not removed, this process will continue and the gums will become more inflamed and infected leading to periodontal disease. This is a serious form of gum disease which can lead to gum recession and eventually to tooth loss. In addition, dental infections from periodontal disease can spread to other parts of the mouth and to internal organs such as the heart, kidneys and liver.

What can I expect when I bring my pet in for a dental exam and cleaning?

The exam will not only include examination of the mouth, teeth, and gums, but may also include a full physical examination to rule out any underlying health issues. If it is determined that your pet would benefit from removal of tartar and plaque that has built up on the teeth we will perform a dental prophylaxis, the medical term for cleaning and polishing. It is much like human dentistry. Plaque and tartar can only be removed by those specially trained and is done while your pet is under anesthesia. A pet under anesthesia allows the dental procedure to be less stressful on your pet and a more thorough cleaning and examination of the teeth and gums. During the cleaning the tartar above, as well as below, the gum line is removed since gum recession most often occurs from tartar accumulating below the gum line. If a diseased tooth is found x-rays are performed to determine the extent of disease and whether an extraction may be necessary. Special compounds (sealant) can be placed on the teeth to decrease the accumulation of plaque. In addition, polishing the teeth creates a smooth surface which deters bacteria from accumulating.

What about special dental diets and treats?

Special dental diets can play a role in reducing the accumulation of plaque and subsequent tartar formation. There are veterinarian approved dental diets available that have tartar reducing ingredients in them or have a larger kibble which are textured to aid in plaque removal. In addition, there are also special canine chew toys and treats that have tartar controlling ingredients. Many products such as oral rinses are also available that cut down on the bacteria in the mouth or have plaque reducing enzymes. Your veterinarian can give you specific dietary and dental aid recommendations that will help guide you in your pet’s dental program. None however work better than daily, teeth brushing and all are to be used in addition to regular professional cleanings.

How do I go about brushing my pet’s teeth?

Daily brushing using a veterinarian approved toothpaste (not human toothpaste) and a soft bristled toothbrush can help maintain good oral hygiene and prevent the buildup of disease causing plaque and tartar. We recommend gently holding the nose and mouth and just slide the brush under the gum to brush the teeth. Trying to open the mouth makes some pets fidget and not allow you to brush. Start slowly with the goal of getting your pet used to having the brush in their mouth and progress to full mouth brushing. Some owners do find trying to brush their pet’s teeth a nearly impossible task and in many cases the pet simple will not allow it. There are dental chews we can recommend or dental rinses to help reduce plaque in the mouth.

How do I learn more and schedule an oral exam for my pet?

Please contact Gentle Care Animal Hospital 417-725-2386 to find out more, schedule an appointment or receive a cost estimate for your pet’s dental cleaning.