The Importance of Dental Care

January 12, 2017

By Dr. Hope Jankunas

Dental health is an important aspect of your pet’s overall well being. Bacteria from an infected mouth travels through the bloodstream causing disease in vital organs such as the kidneys, liver and heart.  Diseased teeth are painful, and in severe cases, affect your pet’s ability to eat.

Many pets suffer in silence

Although we humans have become desensitized to it, bad breath is not normal.  It is a sign of periodontal disease and should not be ignored. 

Other signs of dental disease are:

  • red or bleeding gums
  • drooling, abnormal chewing or dropping food
  • loss of interest in playing
  • pawing or rubbing at the face or mouth
  • shying away from you or growling when you touch the mouth or muzzle
  • poor grooming habits (cats)
  • weight loss
  • refusing to eat

If your pet is showing any of the signs listed above they should see the vet immediately.  Cats and dogs will often hide their illness, so if they are displaying any abnormal signs you can expect that significant disease is already present.

At the early stages, there are often no signs that something is wrong.  Most pets will continue to eat and play with severely diseased or damaged teeth—even with fractures and exposed roots!  The recent statistics indicate that greater than 50% of dogs and cats over the age of three have dental disease.  We commonly diagnose dental disease at a pet’s one-year-old check up.

Prevention is the best medicine

Maintaining good oral health means brushing your pet’s teeth daily—both dogs and cats! Understandably, this presents a challenge for pet parents if their pet won’t cooperate.  Starting early by introducing puppies and kittens to daily oral care when they are young makes the task much easier.  Consistency, making it fun, and rewarding your pet generously, are the keys to success at any age!

For pets that refuse daily brushing, oral health treats and prescription dental diets are available to help reduce the accumulation of plaque that leads to tartar and gum disease.  Contrary to popular belief, not all bones will clean the teeth and some can even cause damage.  Hard plastic bones, marrowbones, and antlers can fracture your dog’s teeth (ouch!), which may require treatment such as extraction of the tooth.  If you tap your knuckles with the toy and it hurts, don’t allow your dog to chew it!  You can find a list of accepted products on the Veterinary Oral Health Council website:

Invest in your pet’s dental health

There is an expense associated with dental care and pet owners can prepare by budgeting appropriately.  According to the statistics, most cats and dogs will need a dental cleaning by their third birthday. Putting off the treatment only delays the inevitable—with each passing year the disease becomes more severe and the costs associated with dental care will rise.  Some insurance companies will cover the cost of dental treatments, however, many do not, especially if the pet has not been receiving regular dental preventative care.

Pet parents should be wary of anyone who advertises “cheap” or “anesthesia-free” dental cleanings. General anesthesia is required for a veterinarian to perform a proper oral health evaluation and dental cleaning.  A pre-anesthetic assessment, including a physical exam and blood-work, will be performed to ensure that your pet is healthy for anesthesia.  A dedicated licensed veterinary technician will monitor and care for your pet during his procedure and until he is fully recovered.  These safety measures are well worth the added expense.

Pets are family.  Show them you care by making their dental health a priority.

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