Plaque is a natural component of the bacterial system in your pet’s mouth, but plaque buildup that hardens to tartar along the gum line becomes a problem because the bacteria the plaque and tartar harbor can cause periodontal disease. The only way to remove tartar completely is a professional dental cleaning with special instruments. Because 70% of pets suffer from some dental disease by age 3, and February is National Pet Dental Health month, the Town & Country Animal Hospital team wants to help you take control of your pet’s dental care, both at home and in our hospital. Use the following checklist. 

#1: Perform pet dental hygiene at home

Do you know where good oral hygiene begins? Toothbrushing. If you are already preventing worries down the road by brushing your pet’s teeth daily, you and your pet deserve a gold star! If not, it’s never too late to start. Ensure you use a fingertip or child-size toothbrush, and veterinary enzymatic toothpaste that comes in many tasty flavors, like peanut butter or chicken. Never use human toothpaste, which is toxic to pets, because of ingredients like xylitol. If your pet refuses your attempts to brush their teeth, don’t give up—try oral hygiene products such as water additives, oral wipes, rinses, or sprays. 

#2: Get regular veterinary exams and cleanings

Are your pet’s dental cleanings on your calendar? If plaque buildup has turned to tartar in your pet’s mouth, the bacteria that cause periodontitis work their way down into the tooth cavity where chronically painful infection and decay will begin around the gums, tissue, and bone. Also, once the bacteria are in your pet’s mouth, they will circulate in the bloodstream, and can cause damage to your pet’s major organs. 

Your veterinarian can help your pet stay ahead of future concerns with regular oral examinations yearly, or every six months, according to your veterinarian’s recommendation, and depending on your pet’s breed, age, and health status. Your veterinarian will use dental X-rays to safely inspect any issues below your pet’s gum line, where most of the damage lies. Your veterinary team will also use specialized dental instruments to remove plaque buildup, and then polish and protect your pet’s teeth.

Your pet will be anesthetized during the cleaning, which is safer for the pet, and for the veterinary team member performing the procedure. The X-rays will be taken while the pet is under anesthesia, which ensures they feel less discomfort and stress. X-rays are necessary to reveal fractured teeth, infected tooth roots, and abscessed teeth, which often cannot be seen on a physical examination. 

If your pet’s dental hygiene goes unnoticed and untreated, your veterinarian cannot track periodontal disease, and your pet will likely experience tooth root damage that can cause tooth loss and more serious problems in later disease stages. Review the visual stages of periodontal disease from the  American Veterinary Dental College

#3: Provide your pet with dental treats and chews

Can you help prevent plaque and tartar buildup, in between dental cleanings, at home? Yes! In addition to toothbrushing, gnawing on a dental chew or dental treat helps your pet scrape off plaque buildup by doing what comes naturally. Your veterinarian can recommend a variety of dental hygiene chews and treats made with oral cleaning properties that have the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval. Ensure you do not give your pet a dental chew or treat that is so hard that a tooth could be fractured, too large for their mouth, or too tiny and is a choking risk. 

#4: Consider dental prescription diets

Have you talked to your veterinarian about your pet’s crunchy kibble? They may recommend a dental prescription, because many dental diets include larger kibble with a porous texture that crumbles into smaller pieces that scrape your pet’s teeth as they chew. Although dental diets contain the nutrients your pet needs, always check with your veterinarian before switching your pet’s food, in case your pet requires a nutrition plan that addresses other health concerns. Always forgo table scraps and extra treats, or you will be taking one step forward and two steps back with your pet’s oral hygiene. 

#5: Be aware of dental disease symptoms

By adulthood, many pets experience some degree of dental disease and pain. Early signs include:

  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Yellow or brown tartar
  • Red gums

Your pet may also be trying to tell you they are in pain if they are: 

  • Drooling excessively 
  • Lethargic
  • Sensitive to facial touch
  • Losing weight

Routine dental care increases your pet’s quality of life, and can also add years to their life. Once the bacteria begin circulating in your pet’s bloodstream, their major organs, such as their heart, kidneys, and liver, can become inflamed, leading to life-threatening infection, and organ failure. 

Many pets are noticeably more energetic after a professional dental cleaning because their quality of life was impaired by their chronic oral pain. If you delay your pet’s dental cleaning, not only will your pet suffer from preventable pain, but you may also face costly procedures like multiple teeth extractions, root canals, and other advanced procedures.

Oral diseases in pets are preventable when addressed in a timely manner. Call us at Town & Country Animal Hospital to take advantage of National Pet Dental Health Month, and schedule your pet’s wellness exam, including a complete dental cleaning.