Oral Hygiene: Why Caring for Your Pet's Pearly Whites is No Joke

A Note from Dr. Ed:

Dental care is one of the most commonly overlooked issues in our pets.  In fact, most dogs and cats begin to show some signs of dental problems by age three.  Many owners believe that these dental problems are simply a cosmetic issue.  They do not realize, however, that poor oral hygiene can seriously affect the overall health and well-being of their pet.  If left untreated, infection and disease can quickly develop.  To help fight dental disease, it is important to first understand what leads to poor dental hygiene, the signs and symptoms associated with it, and the methods of dental care used for prevention and treatment.

Most oral hygiene issues begin with plaque.  Plaque forms as bacteria combine with saliva and debris.  If plaque is left untreated, it hardens to create tartar along the teeth and gum lines.  The bacteria present in tartar then begin to irritate the gums, causing inflammation.  As inflammation worsens, bacteria continue to damage the gums and tissue surrounding the teeth.  If these conditions are not addressed, bacterial infections such as periodontal disease can develop in the areas surrounding the teeth.  Additionally, bacteria associated with periodontal disease can enter the bloodstream and travel to other major organs.  This can lead to a much more serious and extensive infection in the kidneys, heart, liver, or other parts of the body.

There are many signs to look for when checking for dental disease.  The most common symptoms are bad breath and red, irritated gums.  Inflamed gums may lead to pain or bleeding when eating, and may even cause a loss of appetite in your dog or cat.  You may notice plaque or tartar as well, which can be identified by a yellowish buildup around the base the teeth or gums.  Missing and/or broken teeth are another indicator of poor oral hygiene.

Good oral hygiene can be easily maintained, especially if preventative methods are started at an early age.  There are many ways to provide your pet with good dental care.   The easiest and cheapest way to promote oral hygiene is at home.  

  • Feed your pet quality, coarse-textured food and treats.  A healthy, balanced diet greatly reduces the buildup of plaque and tarter.  
  • Purchase an at-home cleaning kit. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other cleaning products help to effectively remove plaque and kill bacteria.  
  • Have your pet’s teeth professionally cleaned.  Most veterinary offices offer dental cleanings, however these professional cleanings do require general anesthesia.  Additionally, your veterinarian may recommend having pre-anesthetic blood work run to ensure that your pet will handle sedation safely.  Although relatively expensive, professional cleanings are extremely effective and recommended at least once yearly.  
  • Have your pet checked yearly by a veterinarian. Making sure you get your pet in for their yearly checkup greatly reduces the risk of serious oral diseases.  Your veterinarian can easily and quickly examine your pet’s teeth and gums to determine if any problems are developing.
Dental care is an extremely important, and often overlooked, aspect of your pet’s health.  Poor oral hygiene can lead to a variety of health issues ranging from bad breath and inflamed gums to serious infections.  A combination of a healthy diet, at-home teeth cleaning practices, and regular checkups with your veterinarian will help your pet maintain good oral hygiene, giving him or her something to smile about!

Our information is not intended to replace the advice of your veterinarian.  Do not use this information for diagnostic purposes. Always take your pet to your veterinarian to obtain a diagnosis and course of treatment.