Pet Dental Care–About More Than Just Cleaning Teeth

Pet dental care is an important part of overall pet health care.

Did you know that…

  • Dental disease is the single most frequently diagnosed infectious disease in pets?  Or that, by age 3, 70% of cats and 80% of dogs have some form of dental disease?
  • 70% of your pet’s teeth are hidden underneath the gum line where most infection occurs?
  • Chronic oral infections, if left untreated, can spread to the major organs, as well as causing severe pain, bad breath, gum disease, and tooth loss?
  • Non-anesthetic dentals do NOT address the problem and may even damage your pet’s health? See our non-anesthetic dentals video for details?
  • According to a 2013 analysis conducted by VPI Pet Insurance, the average cost to prevent dental disease in pets is $171.82, but the cost to treat dental disease $531.71.?

If these facts come as a surprise, don’t be too alarmed. You’re in good company. Most pet owners are just as surprised as you. They do explain, however, why good pet oral health is such an integral part of overall pet health and why your pet should have an annual oral exam.

I Understand Teeth Cleaning But How Can Dental Health Affect My Pet’s Internal Organs?Pet Dental Care, Critter Doctor Animal Hospital, Kirkland, WA

Here’s the anatomy of pet oral health: Just like us, pets build up plaque on their teeth which, over time, turns to tartar, the hardened more bullet-proof form of plaque. (It’s the stuff you get scraped off your teeth when you get your teeth cleaned.) Plaque and tartar carry bacteria, and not a kind that are good for your pet. Left to their own devices, these bacteria insinuate themselves into your pet’s gums, causing the gums to first become inflamed (a condition called gingivitis), and, if left untreated, to begin receding from the teeth. This causes the bond between the gums and the teeth weaken and become porous.

And that’s when the real problems begin.

Now, not only are the teeth not held as firmly as they should be, but now the nasty bacteria have been given safe passage into that 70% of the tooth below the surface of the gums and your pet’s bloodstream. From there it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to your pet’s internal organs.

What Are The Signs of Dental Disease?

  • Bad breath
  • Loss of appetite (Advanced disease can lead to mouth pain as well as loose teeth and may make eating difficult.)
  • Excessive drooling
  • Inflamed gums
  • Tumors in the gums (best diagnosed by your veterinarian)
  • Cysts under the tongue
  • Loose teeth
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive drinking or urinating

Often, though, physical signs are not obvious, even in advanced stages and even though your pet may be in pain. Pets want to please their owners and often will do everything they can to hide their pain.

What do I do to prevent all this?

First Step: We’re right back to that annual oral exam. It catches problems while they’re minor and easily treated. Prevention is the simple and vastly less expensive solution to the problem.

Your veterinarian may recommend a dental, which will involve a thorough cleaning of your pet’s teeth, checking for broken teeth, ulcers, and tumors, as well as for problems below the gum line where periodontal disease starts. He or she will clean and polish the teeth, preferably with ultrasonic scaling tools, and then rinse the gums above and below the gum line with an antibacterial solution to help delay plaque build-up and reduce the chance of infection. A fluoride treatment may be applied and then a dental sealant to strengthen teeth and desensitize exposed roots.

If you’ve heard about “non-anesthetic dental scaling” and are considering this option, please check out the video on our pet care videos page before doing so. It doesn’t accomplish the task and may harm your pet. For further information, see the American Veterinary Dental Association as well as the American Veterinary Medical Association comments on non-anesthetic pet dentals.

Second Step: You can and should brush your pet’s teeth at home. If this seems like a daunting task, read the section below about brushing before you begin or consult your veterinarian for additional tips.


If My Pet Does Have Dental Disease, How Do I Help Him?

Schedule a dental exam with your veterinarian. He or she will be able to assess your pet’s current oral health, make recommendations, and take the steps necessary to fix all the problems we’ve discussed above.

Brushing My Pet’s Teeth

To begin a brushing routine for your pet, wrap a gauze square or washcloth around your finger and use it like a toothbrush. Wipe all the teeth, front and back, with strokes from the gum line to the tip of the tooth. Immediately afterward, give your pet a treat as a reward so he/she thinks of this routine as a positive experience. Do this once or twice a day for one to two weeks to familiarize your pet with have his gums and teeth rubbed.

After you’ve done this first step, get yourself a toothbrush made especially for canines or felines. Ask your vet for toothpaste made especially for canines or make a paste out of baking soda and water. Never use fluoride with dogs under six months of age—it can interfere with their enamel formation. And please do not use human toothpaste, which can irritate a pet’s stomach. Special mouthwash for pet is also available. Ask your vet.

If your pet puts up a fuss when you brush his teeth, try dipping the toothbrush in warn water and garlic powder (for dogs) or tuna water (for cats). Your pet will love the taste and respond more positively to the toothbrush.

Once your pet is comfortable with the brush in his mouth, you can be a bit more detailed in your brushing. For gum health, position the brush at a 45 degree angle to the tooth’s surface and move the tooth brush in an oval direction. Be sure to brush the crevice where the gums meet the teeth because this is where odor and infection begin. Try to brush once every couple of days. Daily is even better if you can make the time.

The problems are scary but the solution is easy. Regular check-ups. Your veterinarian may also recommend a special diet, or other oral home-care products to help maintain healthy teeth.