Excellent Pet Dental Care Matters

Pet Dental Care–not the most exciting topic. It becomes more exciting when you understand its importance to your pet’s overall health. Yes, a pet with shiny teeth or good breath is a great thing, but good pet dental care can actually help your pet live a longer life–and feel better!

Bookmark this go-to Guide as your personal reference to excellent pet dental care. We explain what is involved, why it can mean a better life for your pet, and give you lots of other great tips and recommendations for keeping your dog, cat, or other pet’s teeth in tiptop shape. 

The Components of Pet Dental Care

Modern veterinary medicine has evolved to a holistic approach to a pet’s overall total wellness. This includes a focus on one of the traditionally overlooked areas of pet health–teeth. Unless a veterinarian is regularly monitoring a pet’s oral health, it tends to get little thought or attention until there are symptoms of stinky breath or obvious pain. By then, damage is likely already in progress below the gum line.

This is why practicing good dental care for pets starts with annual veterinary exams, and includes regular at-home brushing, and periodic dental cleanings below the gum line.

The components of good pet dental care also include:

  • Digital x-rays to get a closer look at what lies beneath the gum line, since periodontal disease can sometimes be hidden

  • Balanced nutrition and dental treats (these do not replace exams)

Why Healthy Teeth Means a Healthier Life

Bad breath is one of the warning signs of problems with your dog or cat’s oral care. Periodontal disease, or dental disease, develops through the buildup of plaque. This is a biofilm or bacterial mass that is constantly piling up on your pet’s teeth. Over time, plaque that isn’t removed hardens and forms tartar or calculus. It looks like a hard brown material on the tooth’s surface.

Left untreated, bacteria and plaque lead to periodontal disease, inflammation, or swelling of the tissues that surround and support the teeth.

If your pet has a buildup of plaque and tartar, it’s likely they are also suffering from gingivitis and inflamed gums. The gums gradually separates from the teeth, making way for even more bacteria. This can speed up the process of periodontal disease, inflammation, and swelling. 

As bacteria continue to form, they will eventually lead into the bloodstream. This is serious and results in harm to the organs of the body due to inflammation and infection throughout your pet’s system. Problems resulting from periodontal disease can impact:

  • The heart (inflammation of the heart’s lining)
  • Kidneys
  • Liver
  • The mouth and teeth, including increased risk of tooth loss and oral and bone cancers

Periodontal disease can be incredibly painful for your pet and is permanent once established. Because of the severity of long term bacterial infections, many pets will have a reduced lifespan of up to three years if dental disease remains untreated. 

The good news is that this can be prevented with the components of good dental care mentioned above. 

Dental Cleaning for Dogs and Cats

To help prevent build-up plaque and tartar on your pet’s teeth, brush them regularly as part of at-home maintenance. Professional dental cleanings, though, are the only effective way of removing existing buildup. 

Professional dental cleanings include anesthesia, which can be a cause of anxiety or procrastination among pet owners. The benefits of anesthesia for dental care outweigh its minimal risk (less than 1% for any procedure involving anesthesia). Plus, there are pre-cleaning tests that allow us to help screen pets who could be more likely to have issues with anesthesia. 

Since pets can’t just “open up and say ah” on command, the safest way for them to be examined is with anesthesia-based cleaning. That way, they are still enough to allow for digital x-rays plus a thorough cleaning and polishing. Anesthesia also shields your pet from any discomfort caused by scaling off tartar and plaque below the gum line. 

Digital dental x-rays, taken while your pet is under anesthesia, provide us with images of each tooth below the gum line including the roots. Digital is a fast way to receive the x-rays as it does not require chemical processing, and has significantly lower radiation than traditional x-ray.

Some clinics tout cleanings without anesthesia as better for your pet. These are usually done by people who aren’t veterinarians or who aren’t skilled in dog or cat dentistry. These can’t provide the level of cleaning, close examination, digital imaging, and expertise that a skilled veterinarian can provide when your pet is under anesthesia. These “cleanings” also cannot treat the disease below the gumline which is much more serious than the disease you can see above the gumline.

At-Home Care of Your Pet’s Dental Health

As we mentioned, follow-up dental care at home can go a long way in helping to prevent the accumulation of plaque and tartar. Our pets prefer cuddles and treats to brushing, of course, but regular brushing is one of the single best ways to protect your pet’s dental health.

If you are new to dog or cat tooth brushing, we recommend that you watch a few videos online for reference, or ask us to demonstrate at your next preventive care exam. Start slow and practice. Over time, your pet will get use to the regimen.

Next, make sure you have the appropriate toothbrush, including the right one for a cat or dog, and the correct size. Many are angled for a better grip and to get to the back of the mouth. Choose a toothpaste that your pet will like, as there are many flavors out there. Never use human toothpaste for your pet because it is toxic to them.

Need suggestions on pet toothbrushes, paste, and treat? No problem. Here are a few we recommended.

Best Rated Toothbrushes for Cats and Dogs

Best Toothpastes for Cats and Dogs

Recommended Dental Treats for Cats and Dogs

Other Tips for Good Pet Dental Health

  • Offer dental chews or other safe chew toys and supervise your pet while they eat/chew them. This helps but may not clean all areas of the teeth. Chews can be a choking hazard, though, if your dog is one that gulps rather than chews.

  • Opt for dry kibble over wet (or in addition to wet). Kibble can have a positive effect on oral health, helping to keep teeth sharpened and cleaned. Dogs, especially, need something to crunch on. Kibble alone, though, won’t prevent plaque. 

  • Wet, canned food can be a gourmet treat but it increases bacteria, plaque, and tartar. 

  • Cotton-tipped applicators can be a good way to help remove visible daily plaque at home before it hardens. 

  • Page 3 of this article describes other options that can help protect your pet’s teeth.

  • February is Pet Dental Health Month. Most veterinarians offer discounts and specials when you book your pet’s dental cleaning during February.

Domestic dogs and cats are generally living much longer lives due to advances in pet health care. Unlike their wild cousins, pets are now living long enough to “outlive their teeth”. Keep their oral health on track with their overall health by starting them on a great dental care program. 

If you would like more information about pet dental care, we are here to answer your questions or set up an appointment. You may want to consider one of our wellness care plans which bundle services to help pet owners save money. These plans can include basic dental services.