Dental Hygiene: More Than Just Fresh Breath for Pets

By Dr. Laura Hady

I believe that one of the best things pet owners can do for the health of their furry friends is to keep apprised of their pet’s dental health. Too often, I only get to see a pet when the dental disease is beyond bad breath, to the point of pain. By then, what at one time would have been considered a routine dental cleaning has becomes a semi-emergency as the dental disease can affect the heart valves and kidney function. The good news is that this scenario can be prevented with routine dental hygiene at home, dental exams at your pet’s annual health visit, and regular cleanings. Here is some basic guidance to help you understand and care for your pet’s dental health.

  • Dental health begins at an early age. I Believe it or not, 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats have some form of periodontal disease by age 2. This is why it’s a good idea to start brushing puppy and kitten teeth at 4-6 months, during the time they begin to lose their “milk” teeth and get their adult teeth. This is also the age when they are most oral and don’t mind you putting things in their mouth.

Start with a piece of gauze moistened with a little water or a plastic textured fingerbrush. Lift the upper lip and rub it back and forth on all surfaces of the teeth. Eventually, you can work up to a toddler soft toothbrush or a specific veterinary toothbrush with veterinary toothpaste by the time they are 6 months old.

Virbac makes an enzymatic toothpaste that keeps cleaning even after you brush the teeth. This toothpaste comes in a range of flavors, from poultry, to malt, to vanilla mint, which is my pet’s favorite. I keep these supplies in a cup in my bathroom so that I remember to brush their teeth each day. Doing this will help to lengthen the time before their first dental is needed and the time between dental cleanings. (Note that your veterinarian may recommend retained baby (deciduous) teeth removal at the time of your pet’s spay or neuter, as these teeth can cause an issue with the descent and health of the permanent adult tooth.)

  • We can’t always see the problem. Your veterinarian will often recommend pre-anesthetic blood work before a dental procedure. This is usually included in a dental estimate. The results of these tests help vets decide which anesthesia protocol is the best for your pet.
  • Locating the unhealthy teeth. Once your pet is safely under anesthesia, the gums are probed for gingival pockets and dental radiographs are taken. A tooth that may appear normal on the outside may have an infected root. If the tooth needs to be extracted, the vet typically calls the owners to advise them about any additional charges that might be incurred and to obtain permission. Examining the mouth while the pet is under anesthesia will also enable your veterinarian to identify masses or foreign bodies, such as pieces of wood or steak bone that have lodged in the mouth.
  • After the cleaning: Worn or broken teeth also require radiographs and possible removal. Sometimes, it’s not possible to see the fracture until the teeth are cleaned. Anytime that the soft part of the tooth called the pulp is exposed, there is potential for a tooth root abscess to form. Another issue may be gingival hyperplasia, which is an overgrowth of the gums that does not allow the surface of the tooth to be exposed and may harbor bacteria. Please be sure to attend the post dental conference and scheduled re-checks so the veterinary staff can guide you through the healing process and give you specific dental hygiene tips.
  • When to see a specialist. We are fortunate to have a boarded dentist Dr. Kris Bannon and her residents at Veterinary Dentistry and Oral Surgery of New Mexico which is located in Algodones, New Mexico. Bannon has the specialized training, experience and equipment to perform root canals, diagnose and surgically fix jaw fractures, apply crowns and create custom specialized braces for pet’s mouth. Your veterinarian can refer you to Dr. Bannon if advanced procedures are warranted and she can help your veterinarian come up with a dental plan for your pet.
  • Stomatitis in cats. Stomatitis is a broad term for when the body’s immune system attacks the tissues in the mouth causing inflammation in the mouths of cats. This painful condition can be secondary to a chronic viral infection, such as feline leukemia (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Dental cleanings, steroids, and antibiotics are usually beneficial only in the short term. For long-term relief, some cats need to have all of their teeth extracted. Let your veterinarian know if your cat is having issues eating, drooling, or has odiferous breath.


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