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Things to Know About Your Pet's Dental Health

Are you keeping up with your pet's dental health? Here's the scoop on how to keep your pet's smile sparkling.

By Izzy ErlichPublished 6 years ago 4 min read
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Let's admit it: our pets are cherished members of our family. We buy them the best foods, let them sleep in our beds, and take them on vacations. We fret about their health and are worried sick when they become ill. Then why do so many pet owners neglect our pet's dental health? According to Nationwide, a top provider of pet insurance, 80% of dogs have signs of dental disease by age 3! Many of us know how excruciating a toothache can be, and it is no different for our four-legged friends. However, dogs and cats do not often clearly communicate to us that they are hurting. It is essential to learn how to prevent oral health problems in our pets and recognize when they need veterinary dental care. Keep reading for some tips to keep their pearly whites in top shape.

It's not just about bad breath!

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Of course, no one enjoys a slobbery kiss on the face from a dog with rancid breath. If your pet's mouth isn't smelling so great, it certainly warrants an oral health exam by your veterinarian. But there are so many more reasons to keep the mouth healthy. In addition to stinky breath, bad oral health can cause severe pain, poor appetite, loose teeth, and infection, leading to expensive tooth extractions or other surgeries. Dental disease can also contribute to poor overall health, including heart, liver, and kidney problems. Decent doggy breath is just the icing on the cake when you take proper care of your pet’s dental health!

Establish a brushing regimen early.

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Brushing pet teeth regularly is the first step to prevent periodontal disease, which is pathology of the tooth, gums, and surrounding structures. But very few pet owners regularly brush their pet's teeth as often as they should. Many dogs get their teeth brushed at the groomer every few weeks or not at all. Imagine if people brushed their own teeth this infrequently! You should try to brush your pet’s teeth daily. Some pets may seem uncooperative at first and their owners give in too soon. But just like potty training, learning to accept a toothbrush takes time. The key is to start early, establish a routine, and stick to it! Start by purchasing the tools you'll need. Use a toothpaste specifically designed for dogs and cats, as these are safe when swallowed. They have meat, chicken, and seafood flavorings to help your pet accept brushing. For some pets, a brush designed to fit over your finger may be easier and give you better control than a long brush.

Just like learning how to train your dog, there are several steps in getting your pet to accept brushing. Start by letting your pet lick the toothpaste off the brush for a few days. Then gradually let them get accustomed to a soft brushing action. You don't need to scrub hard. A few quick swipes down each side of the mouth on the top and bottom jaws is sufficient. While brushing, shower your pet with praise. When you are finished, reward them with their meal or treat. Soon brushing will become part of their daily routine. Some adult dogs may be a little harder to train than puppies. If your pet absolutely refuses to cooperate for tooth brushing, you can try using daily dental wipes, powders, water additives, or chew bones. Look for products with a seal of acceptance from the Veterinary Oral Health Council.

Regular veterinary checkups are the first step in recognizing a dental problem.

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Routine veterinary visits aren't just for vaccines. Your veterinarian performs a complete examination of your pet, and this should include a good look in the mouth. Your vet will check for signs of periodontal disease, which includes tartar buildup or calculus (hardened brown material that forms due to bacteria or plaque), gingivitis, loose teeth, infection, and other oral lesions. Based on this exam, they will advise whether a veterinary dental cleaning is recommended. You should also monitor for sign of a dental problem at home. Symptoms may include bad breath, dropping food, chewing abnormally, refusing to eat at all, salivating excessively, and bleeding from the mouth or gums. If you observe these signs, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away. Unfortunately, animals with bad teeth often hide symptoms until the dental disease is very advanced. Many pets will continue to eat despite oral pain and loose teeth. It is important to keep up with routine professional examinations to catch problems early.

Veterinary dental procedures are essential for diagnosing and treating periodontal disease.

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Even with regular examinations, your vet can't provide an adequate diagnosis or treatment for your pet's dental health problems without a procedure called a COHAT, or Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment. This is routinely called a "dental cleaning,” but involves so much more than that! During this procedure, each tooth is fully examined, probed, cleaned, and polished. Dental x-rays are performed to identify problems in the tooth roots and underlying bony structures of the jaw. Even if a tooth appears normal from the outside, a lot of painful disease can be found in the tooth root structures. which are not normally visible.

Animals don't open up and say "aaaah" while their teeth are poked, prodded, and cleaned. Many people even require sedation for the dentist! Veterinary dental procedures for pets must be done under general anesthesia. Your vet will likely recommend blood work to make sure your pet is healthy enough for anesthesia. While any anesthetic procedure can be a scary endeavor, it truly is the best way to ensure your pet's dental health needs are addressed.

During the procedure, your vet may identify a tooth that requires removal due to severe disease. Some pets may need several teeth extracted. This sounds daunting, but your pet will feel much better when painful teeth are removed. They will be able to eat better without them! In some cases, advanced procedures such as root canals can save a bad tooth from extraction. Your vet may refer you to a board-certified veterinary dental specialist for this level of care.

COHATs are recommended yearly for most pets, depending on the severity of disease. Small breed dogs are more prone to oral health problems and their owners should plan for regular dental care over their lifespan. This can become costly. It is recommended to obtain pet insurance early in your pet's life, as several plans will cover these procedures. Many veterinary hospitals will offer dental specials throughout the year. This often happens in February, which is Pet Dental Month. Check out the best pet insurance companies, then ask your veterinarian for more details.

Don't forget about your feline family members.

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Cats get dental disease too! Compared to their canine counterparts, they are not as likely to cooperate with daily brushing and they don't tend to visit the vet as frequently. Cats are also very adept at hiding signs of oral pain. As a result, a dental problem is often very advanced before it is identified. Cats are susceptible to very painful resorptive lesions in their teeth and inflammatory conditions in their mouth and gums. This can adversely affect their overall health, especially if they stop eating due to pain. Don't forget to get that kitty to a vet for regular oral health exams!

Good dental care improves your pet's quality of life.

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We all want our pets to live a long life, but also their best life. Our pet’s dental health plays an essential role in their quality of life. Painful, diseased, or loose teeth make them feel crummy and can lead to poor overall health. Not to mention that special bond we have with our pets is strengthened when their breath doesn't smell terrible! To keep your pet happy and healthy, establish a good oral health routine now and see your vet for regular exams and dental cleanings.

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About the Creator

Izzy Erlich

Upstate New Yorker, who loves to travel to Colorado and Vancouver. Certified Yoga instructor.

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