February is National Pet Dental Month and serves as a reminder of the importance of pet dental health. Did you know that dental disease is the number one health issue in pets? According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), 80% of dogs over the age of three already have dental disease. What can pet parents do to keep their pet’s teeth clean and healthy?
Know your enemy
So how does dental disease develop? After a meal, food particles combine with saliva and bacteria to form plaque. If plaque isn’t removed, it mineralizes and becomes tartar. Tartar promotes bacterial infections below the gums, leading to gum recession, tooth loss and painful tooth root infections. Bacteria can even enter the blood stream and spread to distant organs, like the kidney, liver and heart.
As in other aspects of medicine, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Keep your pet’s teeth healthy by keeping them clean. Start by brushing your pet’s teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. Brush your pet’s teeth on a regular basis, ideally daily, but at least a few times a week. Imagine what would happen to your teeth, and your breath, if you didn’t brush your teeth every day. So why would it be any different for our pets? Just make sure you use a toothbrush and toothpaste made specifically for pets. Pet toothpaste even comes in flavors your pet can’t resist, like chicken, beef, and seafood and it doesn’t have to be rinsed out.
While nothing beats regular brushing, oral rinses, dental diets and dental treats can help reduce the bacteria and plaque that lead to tartar formation.
Even if you brush your pet’s teeth and give them dental treats, your pet still needs to have their teeth checked at least once a year by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will determine if your pet has dental disease and needs a professional cleaning or any additional treatment. A professional cleaning is done under anesthesia to ensure a thorough oral examination and cleaning of the tooth’s surface and below the gums where most bacteria and tartar are found. After a thorough cleaning, the teeth are polished to smooth the surface and prevent the recurrence of plaque. If necessary, diseased teeth will be extracted or undergo a root canal.
To quote Dr. Seuss, “They sure are handy when you smile. So keep your teeth around awhile”. The same is true for our pets. Brush their teeth, give them healthy dental treats and take them to the veterinarian for annual check-ups and professional cleanings as needed. By following these simple steps, your pet’s pearly whites will stay clean and healthy.