February is National Pet Dental Health Month, but this important topic should be at the front of every pet owner’s mind all year long. If your four-legged friend develops an oral infection—which is highly likely—they can suffer from unnecessary pain and lifelong effects from dental disease. Brush up on your dental disease knowledge—check out the following five facts you need to know about your pet’s oral health.

#1: Dental disease is the most common disease affecting pets

Did you know that, of all the conditions that can afflict pets, dental disease is the most common? Most pets—up to 90%—have some form of dental disease by age 3. The condition may not have advanced enough to cause severe pain and infection, but will progress without professional treatment. Toothbrushing at home—which is good—is not enough to eradicate dental disease from your pet’s mouth, and you should contact your Pierson Pet Hospital veterinarian to schedule a dental cleaning.

#2: Pets typically do not show problems until dental disease has advanced

You probably think that your pet would show obvious signs if they have dental disease, but that’s not the case. Many pets continue to eat despite loose teeth, painful gingivitis, or jawbone loss. Checking your pet’s mouth frequently from an early age helps prevent serious dental disease, and allows the problem to be treated before your pet suffers pain and widespread infection. Dental disease signs include:

  • Yellow, brown, or grey plaque and tartar accumulation on the teeth
  • Red, inflamed, sore gums
  • Bad breath
  • Cracked, worn, or stained teeth
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Pawing or rubbing at the face
  • Ducking when petted on the head
  • Chewing on one side of the mouth
  • Dropping food while eating
  • Blood on chew toys or in the water bowl

Monitor your furry pal for dental disease signs by flipping up their lips weekly. Ideally, you should check their oral health each day when you brush your teeth, but we understand this is not always possible.

#3: Dental disease affects more than your pet’s mouth

Dental disease not only affects your pet’s teeth and oral cavity, but can also cause systemic harm. The oral bacteria that set up shop inside your pet’s mouth leach into the bloodstream through gum tissue damaged by gingivitis. Once in the bloodstream, the bacteria targets major organs, including the heart and the kidneys. Bacterial buildup on the heart valves is a common cause of heart disease in small-breed, older dogs with poor dental health. By stopping dental disease in its tracks with a multimodal management plan, you can help prevent gingivitis, tooth-root abscesses, jawbone loss, diseased teeth, and heart and kidney disease.

#4: Pets need a two-pronged approach to maintain good oral health

You wouldn’t visit your dentist twice per year without brushing your teeth in between, right? Or vice versa? The same oral-health routine should be followed for your pet, to ensure their mouth remains healthy and disease-free. Daily toothbrushing, paired with annual—or more frequent—professional dental cleanings is the best way to keep your four-legged friend’s smile healthy. Additional at-home dental care options include:

  • Dental chews and treats
  • Food and water additives
  • Oral rinses and wipes
  • Prescription dental diets

When searching for the most effective pet dental care product, choose one that displays the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of acceptance. The VOHC awards this seal only to products proven to slow plaque and tartar accumulation, which not all dental health products can claim. 

#5: Anesthesia is a necessary component of a thorough veterinary dental cleaning

Unlike you, when your dentist cleans your teeth, pets require anesthesia to receive the same level of care and cleaning. No pet is well-behaved enough to open wide and say “Ah,” or to sit still when asked. General anesthesia eliminates their stress and anxiety, and minimizes pain when sensitive areas are probed, the tooth structure below the gum line is cleaned, and diseased teeth are extracted. In addition, we take digital dental X-rays while your pet is asleep, to obtain a comprehensive picture of their overall oral health. This process requires your pet to be completely still, which is impossible if they are awake. Prior to inducing anesthesia, we perform a thorough pre-anesthetic health screening and blood work, to ensure your pet is healthy, and as a guide for a customized, safe anesthetic protocol. If you have questions about anesthesia for your pet’s dental cleaning, don’t hesitate to ask our team.

Is your pet’s foul breath knocking you over? If so, it’s time to schedule an oral health exam for your furry pal. Contact our Pierson Pet Hospital team for an appointment.