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Smile! It's National Pet Dental Health Month

Find some tips and advice on how to keep your pet's teeth healthy for longer and learn about dental disease and how to treat it.

What is pet dental health?

Pets, just like us, start out with baby teeth or deciduous teeth. They are the sharp tiny teeth you see before your dog or cat is about six months old. Those are then replaced by permanent adult teeth.

Dogs and cats are a bit different than people as they usually don’t get cavities but instead can get pretty severe periodontal disease.

If you stop brushing your teeth for just a few days, you will feel a film over your teeth. This is called plaque. Plaque can usually be removed pretty easily by brushing your teeth. It’s the same with your dog or cat.

However, if the plaque is not removed, within five to seven days, with the help of bacteria, the plaque will mineralize and you will then notice tartar or calculus on your pet’s teeth. Calculus is pretty noticeable when you lift the lips of your pet — it’s the yellowish to brownish deposit you see. No matter how hard or how frequently you brush your pet’s teeth at this stage, you will not be able to remove the calculus.

When you see calculus this is when you want to check with your veterinarian regarding having the tartar “scaled”. This is when special instruments are used to actually remove the calculus.

If you decide to wait, calculus will then develop into periodontal disease.

But what is periodontal disease?

It is the number one disease affecting dogs and cats. It is caused by excessive tartar building up under the gum line and physically separating the gums/gingiva from the teeth thus creating pockets filled with bacteria. Unfortunately, it can cause some pretty severe damage: bone loss, loose teeth, abscess and even lead to heart disease (the bacteria will actually travel down and lodge into the valves of the heart causing endocarditis). At this stage, you will most likely notice your pet to have bad breath, drooling more than usual, difficulty eating or dropping food from its mouth and the gums to be quite red and even bleeding (gingivitis).

So what can you do to help your pet’s teeth stay healthy and save some money?

The easiest, cheapest and most efficacious option is to brush your pet’s teeth daily with toothpaste made for pets since dogs and cats will actually swallow the toothpaste! Other alternatives include feeding it a special dental diet where the kibbles are engineered to actually help break some of the tartar, using an oral/dental rinse (a bit like Listerine for pets), using safe chew toys or treats as long as your pet actually likes to chew and does not just swallow!

Unfortunately, if your pet already has periodontal disease, you will have to take your pet to your veterinarian for an oral exam and schedule a dental cleaning.

What happens during a dental cleaning and why is it more expensive than when I go to the dentist?

We tend to keep our mouth and teeth pretty clean by brushing and flossing daily and having our teeth professionally cleaned every six months, whereas our pets don’t.

By the time your veterinarian has to clean your pet’s teeth the level of calculus is quite severe and it will take a good amount of time to remove it. As cooperative as most pets are for dental exam, they still won’t keep their mouth wide open for 30 minutes or so to have their teeth cleaned. That’s why they will have to be under general anesthesia.

During that dental cleaning, your veterinarian will scale and polish the teeth above and below the gum line and might also recommend to take x-rays of the teeth to make sure they are healthy and don’t need to be extracted.

Even with good brushing and care at home, your pets need to have their teeth professionally cleaned by your veterinarian. It is similar to having your own teeth cleaned by your dentist.

Make their dental health a priority this month and all year-long and take a look inside your pet’s mouth. Don’t hesitate to share pictures or email us at redwoodanimalhospital@gmail.com with questions!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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