What’s the best way to care for my pet’s teeth?

As New Year’s quickly heads our way and resolutions abound, consider adding a resolution to take care of your critters’ chompers. As the vital importance of dental health has grown in human healthcare, so has it in veterinary medicine. Inflammation in the mouth has been shown to contribute to systemic inflammation in the body and detrimentally affect other body systems, such as worsening ailments like heart disease. Various studies have shown that the majority of cats and dogs have significant dental disease by just a few years of age!

Sadie really enjoys getting her teeth cleaned every day.

So what’s going on exactly? Very simply, think about the fact that we, hopefully, brush our teeth twice a day and yet still require a minimum of a twice a year check-in with a dentist that provides a thorough cleaning and examination. While dogs and cats do not tend to get “cavities,” they are prone to other serious dental diseases that can result in infection, bone loss, and pain. That bad breath that your furry family member might have often isn’t “just what dog or cat breath smells like” but may be a sign of more serious disease. Knowing all of this, what are some ways to prevent and treat dental disease?

  1. Make an appointment with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help advise the best specific treatment plan for your individual animal. Once dental tartar has accumulated, the only recommended treatment to remove it is an anesthetized dental procedure. This allows the veterinary team to safely clean and examine the teeth underneath the gumline, where the disease starts, in a stress-free way for your pet. Think of teeth like an iceberg – we can only see the “tip” (AKA the tooth “crown”) and x-rays are required to see the roots below the gumline, where a lot of disease can hide. As, despite our most polite efforts, we can’t ask a pet to “open wide and stay still”, anesthesia is required. Anesthesia can be scary for some, so discuss the safety plans in place to plan for a safe procedure. Our knowledge of anesthesia and pain management has evolved greatly, to best ensure for a safe and comfortable procedure. Based on what is found in this more thorough procedure, an individualized plan is made for your pet. As you can imagine, this takes a lot of time and care and there are many variables based upon what is found in the x-rays, so ask questions and make a plan ahead of time with your veterinary team.
  2. Once you get the “go ahead” from your vet, start brushing! This can be a great place for older children to learn to be a responsible part of their animals’ care! Brushing with a veterinary toothpaste is the best way to prevent dental disease from developing. Many animals can actually be trained to enjoy getting their teeth brushed, so it is wise to start working with them when they are puppies and kittens. Once a dental procedure is performed later in life, your veterinarian can advise when it is safe to start brushing once the gums have healed and are no longer painful.
  3. Consider dental foods and chews. Ask your veterinarian if a prescription dental food might be appropriate for your pet. As well, they can provide different recommendations for dental chews (look for VOHC approval – see below). The general rule is if you can indent a chew or toy with your fingernail, it is safe to give (always remembering to monitor pets with toys!); anything harder can result in aggressive chewers breaking their teeth or wearing them down.
Mona getting her chomper's cared for daily by Dr. Emily.

If you have ever had a toothache, you know the discomfort dental pain causes. We know the same pain pathways exist in other animals -- they are simply better at hiding it. Truly, I think most every vet has a few happy stories to share where a seemingly comfortable pet has a dental procedure that leaves him or her acting years younger afterwards. Work with your veterinary team for a plan to prioritize your furry family members’ smiles in the coming year!


Dr. Emily

P.S. – Remember that any animal with a mouth needs a plan for their oral health (from rabbits to lizards – they ALL need specific care and examinations). As it’s beyond the scope of this brief article, please talk to your veterinarian about the dental care of all of the animals in your family.

Want to learn more? Veterinary Oral Health Council (look for VOHC approved products) is the mecca of veterinary dentistry and has ample resources and recommended products on their website.

Disclaimer: The content of The Bethel Grapevine’s Ask the Vet blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice and should not be treated as such. If you have a medical question about your pet, call or visit your veterinarian or a veterinary hospital.

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