brush my teeth momWhen we think of dentistry, we often think of bright smiles and pearly white teeth. However, in veterinary medicine, dentistry is much more about preventing pain and infection than about your pet’s pearly whites.

Here is what to know when it comes to your pet’s dental health…

Dental Disease 101

The first, most common symptom of dental disease in our pets is bad breath. This bad breath is the result of bacteria and infection in the mouth.

Like us, plaque (an accumulation of this bacterium) will build up at the gum line causing irritation. This plaque will eventually form calculus (tartar), which further irritates the gums and often leads to infection.

This infection will invade the soft tissue and bone around the tooth causing pain, tooth mobility, and even loss of the teeth. Eventually, these bacteria can end up spreading, via the blood stream, to the heart, liver, kidneys and other vital organs of the body.

To prevent and control pet dental disease, our pets need a combination of three modalities of treatment: a daily oral hygiene regimen, a proper diet, and regular check-ups and cleanings by their veterinarian.

At-Home Care

Like ours, our pets’ teeth will be at their healthiest with a daily oral hygiene program.

In veterinary medicine we often like to say, “It is good to chew. It is better to rinse. It is BEST to brush.“

Without a doubt, brushing our pets’ teeth daily is the best method to remove plaque and maintain a healthy mouth. The procedure is usually quick and easy, and simply involves a soft bristled brush (traditional toothbrush shape, or my personal favorite the finger brush) and pet-safe toothpaste.

Do not use regular human toothpastes as they have ingredients that should not be swallowed, and pets can’t spit.n

In the real world, we understand that some pets simply will not allow this procedure. If that is your situation, there are some other good options for daily care.

Rinses and Chews

Daily oral rinses are one of these options. These rinses (CET Oral Hygiene Rinse is my personal favorite) kill plaque-causing bacteria on the pet’s teeth and gums when brushing is not possible. These rinses are easily applied by simply squirting the rinse along the gum line of the upper teeth, and gravity will pull it down to cover the lower teeth as well.

If neither brushing nor rinsing are a possibility, then the next option is chewing and mechanical removal of the plaque from the teeth. We have to be very careful here though! Chewing on objects harder than the teeth (for example cow rocks, hooves, antlers, and bones) can result in fractures of the teeth.

One safe alternative is oral hygiene chews (I like CET Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Chews). These chews have an antiseptic action as well as an abrasive texture to help mechanically clean the teeth.

Diet and Dental Health

Proper diet can also help improve your pet’s dental health.

The abrasive action of hard food against the teeth while chewing does help remove plaque from the teeth. Please see Dr. Van Hooser’s blog What Should I Feed My Pet  for more information. Likewise, there are special diets specifically manufactured to help accomplish this and your veterinarian can help advise you on which diet would be the best for your pet.

Keep in mind though, that diet alone will not control plaque and should be used in conjunction with a daily oral hygiene regimen.

Dental Cleanings and Exams

People commonly ask, “How often do I need to have my pet’s teeth cleaned?” and my answer is, “It depends….”.

It depends on the level of at home oral cleaning that you are able to provide and the level of tartar and plaque build up in each particular animal. As a general rule, professional cleaning once to twice yearly is considered adequate, but if there is no at home oral care, that number may increase to two to three times yearly.

Problems like fractured teeth and resorptive lesions are common, painful problems in our furry friends and may only be recognized by a professional.

This multimodal approach to your pet’s dental care provides the best method to achieve good oral hygiene, and control pain and infection in our precious pets.

Please feel free to contact us with any questions you might have regarding your pet’s dental health.