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The Importance of Dental Care for your Pet

When is the last time you peeked in your pet's mouth?  Don't be too ashamed if it's been awhile; one of our responsibilities as your pet's medical personnel is to help you keep track of your pet's entire picture of health, and this includes oral health.

Is that smell coming from Sparky's mouth?  Why is Sadie not eating like she use to?  Cally is drooling lately.  If any of this sounds familiar to you, your pet may have a dental problem.  Unfortunately, dental disease is often severe before any outward signs are seen.  Our pets are good at hiding pain and may become accustomed to enduring discomfort if it develops slowly over a long period of time.  Dental disease may cause bad breath (halitosis), pain, and drooling.  It may result in a constant showering of bacteria into the bloodstream, allowing it to travel throughout the body and result in disease of the heart, liver, kidneys, and other organs.  As the bacteria colonize the areas between your pet's teeth and gums, they cause chronic (long-term) irritation and inflammation.  Eventually, periodontal disease develops, which results in destruction of the bone and soft tissues surrounding the tooth.  As the connections between the tooth and surrounding tissues are broken down, instability and pain result.

In order to keep tabs on your pet's dental health, start by scheduling a physical examination with your veterinarian.  During this visit, your veterinary team will help you develop a dental wellness plan.  We will also look for signs of infection, tooth decay, loose or fractured teeth and plaque and/or tartar build up.  Plaque is the build-up of saliva, food, and bacteria and can be easily removed.  If left on the teeth, over time, plaque hardens and becomes tartar, also called calculus, which is more difficult to remove.

If tartar develops on the teeth, a professional dental prophylaxis may be required in order to remove it thoroughly. A dental prophylaxis requires general anesthesia, which is essentially being placed in a sleep-like state with medication.  While under anesthesia, your pet is carefully monitored and supervised at all times.  Please read the Anesthesia and Surgery section of our website for a full briefing.  An ultrasonic cleaning and polish is performed by a certified veterinary technician, similar to what people receive at regular dental examinations.  The ultrasonic cleaning includes addressing the supragingival portion of the tooth, which is below the gum line.  This is imperative, since this is a prime location for bacteria to seat themselves.  After the teeth are clean, our doctor will then examine each tooth carefully and extract diseased teeth if needed.  Following the cleaning, we offer placement of a barrier sealant called OraVet, which creates a wax-like layer on the teeth, preventing plaque build-up.  You may also take home some sealant gel to apply at weekly intervals following the professional cleaning.  Pets with advanced  dental problems may require referral to a board certified veterinary dentist.  

A professional dental prophylaxis creates a good launching point for starting home dental care, by removing plaque and tartar and eliminating painful problem teeth.  This way, when you brush, you are reaching the surface of the enamel rather than the coating of grime covering the teeth.  Brushing should be performed daily, starting as early in life as possible in order to familiarize your pet to handling of the mouth.  Your best bet to sticking to regular teeth brushing is to work it into your daily routine.  You can also motivate yourself by remembering what it feels like when you forget to brush your own teeth at the regular time.

In order to train your pet to willingly allow routine dental care, you may need to start with baby steps and work your way up over time.  Start with what your pet is comfortable with and work gently.  This training may take anywhere from days to months, depending on both you and your pet.   

An example of training progression over time:

1.) Stroke the sides, top, and bottom of the muzzle on both sides in long, slow, even strokes.

2.) Lift the lips gently on either side of the mouth and view the teeth.

3.) Lift the lips and run your finger over the gums.

4.) Lift the lips and brush the outside surfaces of the teeth with a fingerbrush or cotton swab and pet toothpaste.

5.) You may continue to use the fingerbrush or cotton swab, or switch to a toothbrush once your pet is accustomed to brushing.

It is very important to use ONLY toothpaste that is specially formulated for dogs and cats.  Human toothpastes can be harmful to pets.  Some contain an artificial sweetener called Xylitol, which can be toxic to dogs.  When brushing, you need only brush the outside (cheek side) surfaces of the teeth, since this is where the plaque and tartar build up the most.  Brush in an up and down and circular motion, taking care not to cause damage to the gums.  As discussed above, OraVet gel can also be used to prevent plaque and tartar buildup when applied following a dental prophylaxis, and may be used as an alternative to brushing if indicated.

Pets prone to dental disease can benefit from a diet that is specially formulated for dental care.  Look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) symbol on your pet's food and treats.  VOHC was created in order to recognize veterinary dental products that effectively control accumulation of plaque and/or tartar (calculus).  You can also try offering your pet dental formulated treats, chew toys, or bones.  Greenies, rawhides and knuckle bones are all good choices but must be given using good judgment and under supervision ONLY.  Any toys, chews, or bones can pose a choking or obstruction hazard if swallowed whole or in large pieces.

As advocates of compassionate care and animal welfare, we want to help your pet's mouth to be happy, healthy, and comfortable for life! 


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