February is Pet Dental Health Month!

So start brushing those teeth ;)

Dental disease affects a significant number of pets during their lifetime and maintaining a healthy mouth is an important part of overall health. Contrary to what pet parents believe, your pet won’t let you know if their teeth ache. Pets are subject to the same dental problems as their owners and bad breath, plaque build-up and gingivitis are important to prevent. Oral health care should begin early and a dental home care program can be started as early as 8 weeks. Just like any training that starts at a young age, daily brushing will allow your pet to become familiar with dental home care by the time the adult teeth erupt.

Dental home care is not the only tool in the kit of dental health. Ask your veterinarian about dental health and you will likely be presented with a variety of other tools including regular veterinary dental examinations, dental diets, treats, water additives and professional cleaning.

Sadly, when we do not prioritize our pet’s dental health we allow for dental issues to occur, all of which lead to dental disease. The first sign of trouble is plaque! The sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on teeth. Bacteria live in plaque and secrete acids that cause tooth decay and irritate gum tissue, eventually leading to gingivitis and periodontal disease. If plaque is not removed regularly by tooth brushing it hardens to create calculus, also known as tartar. Calculus in our pets can only be removed through a cleaning under general anesthetic. As this layer of calculus builds up along the gum line, it pushes the gums away from the roots of the teeth. As the gums recede, the sensitive, enamel-free part of the tooth is exposed and this will cause sensitivity and pain. Without intervention, this cycle will lead to dental problems including loose teeth, loss of teeth, foul breath and constant oral pain.

Regardless of your pet’s age or size, and based on your pet’s level of cooperation, your veterinarian will assess your pet’s mouth during every physical exam. Pets are not generally comfortable with having their mouth examined, but you can help by handling your pet’s mouth at home on a regular basis. Ask your veterinarian for resources and tips regarding dental assessments at home, starting with your very first visit, and you can help your pet become familiar and comfortable with somebody handling their mouth.  Your veterinarian will make dental recommendations based on their exam findings. It is important to note that many pets require “dentals”, meaning a complete oral assessment and treatment plan under general anesthetic.

Much like your own routine visits to the dentist, a professional dental cleaning involves a thorough scaling and polishing, as well as an inspection of the teeth, gums and mouth. Dental radiographs are widely available and obtaining images of the teeth below the gum line are always a good idea. No dog or cat will let a veterinary professional come anywhere near their mouth with pointy tools and general anesthetic is vital to performing a thorough assessment and cleaning. Rest assured that your veterinarian is trained to provide safe anesthesia and will be happy to answer any questions you have regarding the procedure. 

Pet dental problems are not just limited to plaque. Veterinarians are trained to diagnose loose teeth, gum disease, dental abscesses and tooth fractures. Many veterinarians are skilled at extracting teeth and possess the tools required to accomplish the job. It is important to note that dental extractions can be challenging as the roots of your pet’s teeth are longer than the crown. This is especially true for dogs where the root length is generally 2-3 times longer, making extraction a slow and careful process. If your pet has dental concerns that are better managed by a specialist, your veterinarian will discuss referral to a veterinary dentist.