Dog and Cat Dental Care: Simple Steps for Healthy Teeth

Brushing Dog's Teeth
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A combination of professional cleanings and brushing at home can help improve your pet's dental health.

By 3 years of age, 85 percent of pet dogs and cats have some degree of dental disease. Small-breed dogs and pets with flat faces, such as Pugs and Persian cats, are more prone to dental problems than other breeds because of their dental alignment. However, any age and any breed of pet can be affected.

Dental disease is more than just a cosmetic issue. An unhealthy mouth allows bacteria to access the body’s blood supply. This shower of bacteria can cause irreversible damage to the liver, kidneys, joints and heart. The damage would not be immediate but insidious in nature, perhaps not manifesting until years later. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help prevent dental disease.

Dental Care Starts at Home

Dental care is best started at home with a puppy or kitten. Brushing your pet’s teeth can be a positive experience, but it will take patience, perseverance and a good attitude (from you and your pet). Special dog and cat toothpastes and brushes are available. It is not advisable to use human toothpastes, because the ingredients could potentially irritate the pet’s gastrointestinal tract if swallowed. Ask your veterinarian about toothpastes formulated for pets. And while you're at it, ask your vet or a staff member to demonstrate the proper way to accustom a pet to having his mouth and teeth worked with.

Professional Cleanings

All pets need to have their teeth professionally cleaned periodically. How often depends on several factors, including the overall condition of your pet's teeth. Pets live better lives today, because of advances in pet health care, including improvements in dental care. Dental X-rays, root canals, braces and other advanced treatments are available for dogs and cats. In most cases, routine dental cleanings can be performed by your veterinarian; if special procedures are required, your pet may be referred to a veterinary dental specialist.

Although dental scaling instruments can be found in pet supply catalogs, most experts agree this procedure should be left to professionals. Scaling instruments are hard and sharp and — when used improperly or by someone inexperienced — can damage sensitive gum tissue. Teeth also need to be polished after scaling. The scaling process leaves microscopic grooves in the teeth that allow tartar to re-form at an accelerated rate. Veterinary staff members are trained and experienced in using these devices.

Addressing Anesthesia

To help ensure a thorough and effective dental cleaning at your vet, a pet should be under anesthesia. Plenty of safeguards are in place, making modern anesthesia extremely safe. Before a pet undergoes an anesthetic procedure, your veterinarian will want to perform a complete physical examination. Depending on the age and general condition of the pet, a preanesthetic blood panel, chest X-ray and electrocardiogram (ECG) may be recommended. Many of the same monitoring devices that are available in human medicine are also used for cats and dogs. While a pet is under anesthesia, your veterinary team may administer intravenous fluids, monitor your pet’s heart rate and record the amount of oxygen in the blood, blood pressure and electrical activity of the heart.

Look for Safe Chew Toys

Pets love to explore their environment by chewing on things. They will gnaw on wood, rocks, chain-link fences and even themselves. These masticatory movements can result in broken or loosened teeth. Foreign material embedded under the gum line can weaken the attachment of the tooth to the jaw and also act as a source of foul breath. When offering a pet a treat, toy or dental chew, be sure it is dental safe. Look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Acceptance. Products that sport this seal have been shown to be safe and effective. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian.

Other Treatments

In addition to professional cleanings, dental chews and at-home brushing, there are rinses and other products that can help improve pet oral hygiene, including a gel that is applied to the teeth to help keep bacteria from adhering to the tooth enamel.

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