Dental health plays an important role in your pet’s general wellbeing, but many well-meaning pet owners overlook this essential component of their pet’s health. The majority of the pet population suffers some dental disease by age 3. Left untreated, dental disease can lead to serious problems but, fortunately, it’s almost entirely preventable. That’s why our Pierson Pet Hospital team is taking the time to answer our pet owners’ most common questions about their pet’s dental care. Keep reading for the information you need and actionable steps you can take to improve your pet’s dental health.
Question: Is dental disease in pets really a big deal?
Answer: Yes, dental disease is a huge deal for pets and can cause problems that reach far beyond their teeth. Dental disease refers to gum inflammation and tooth damage caused by plaque and tartar buildup on your pet’s teeth. Plaque is a sticky substance that begins to accumulate on your pet’s teeth shortly after eating, and in only a couple of days turns into tartar, which is a much harder substance and more difficult to remove. Over time, tartar buildup can erode the tooth roots and surrounding structures and cause severe pain. In addition, dental disease can result in chronic inflammation and organ damage if bacteria leach into the bloodstream and travel to the heart, liver, and kidneys.
Q: How can I tell if my pet has dental disease?
A: Early dental disease signs in pets can be challenging to identify. Bad breath, discolored teeth, and red gum line inflammation are usually the first signs, but they are often missed until the disease—and a pet’s pain—has significantly progressed, because pets tend to hide their pain and owners seldom look in their pet’s mouth. Left untreated, dental disease signs will worsen to include:
- Visible tooth damage or fracture
- Heavy calculus (i.e., yellow or brown tartar buildup)
- Chewing on one side of the mouth
- Facial swelling, or frequent rubbing and pawing at the face
- Appetite changes
- Weight loss
- Reluctance to chew or play with toys
Q: Should I brush my pet’s teeth?
A: Imagine not brushing your own teeth—your mouth would probably feel absolutely awful. If you do not brush your pet’s teeth regularly, the plaque on their teeth will harden into tartar, which only a professional dental cleaning can remove. Brush your pet’s teeth with pet-specific products and avoid human toothpaste, whose ingredients like fluoride are toxic to pets. Use pet-specific toothpaste that is safe and comes in a variety of tasty flavors, a finger brush for hard-to-reach areas in pets with small mouths, and soft-bristled children’s toothbrushes for large pets. Brushing your pet’s teeth every day promotes good oral health and helps prevent dental problems down the road.
Q: Are bones good for my pet’s teeth?
A: Not all pet dental products are created equal, and bones often do more harm than good. Bones are hard, brittle, and sharp, and can break teeth and injure the mouth and tongue. The safest, most effective dental chews are typically pliable material that your dog can sink their teeth into and get a scrubbing action. Look for products that carry the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval, which guarantees a product has been proven to effectively and safely slow plaque and tartar accumulation.
Q: Why does my pet need professional dental cleanings?
A: Annual dental cleanings are an essential part of keeping your pet’s mouth healthy and disease-free. While daily toothbrushing at home reduces plaque buildup, you can remove only a portion of the plaque, because 60% of each tooth lies hidden below the gum line. Daily toothbrushing must be paired with professional dental cleanings to detect and treat problems early. The general rule of thumb is that most pets require annual dental cleanings, but some pets may require more frequent cleanings based on their age, breed, size, and health.
Dental disease is a serious, but preventable, condition and regular dental cleanings combined with an at-home dental care routine can greatly reduce your pet’s risk. If you have questions about your pet’s dental health, or would like a dental examination and evaluation for your pet, contact Pierson Pet Hospital to schedule an appointment.