February is National Pet Dental Health month, and for good reason – according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the most common clinical issue in pets is periodontal disease. The good news is gum disease in pets is nearly 100% preventable. Keep reading to learn more about why a healthy mouth is important and the steps you can take to keep your pet’s mouth in good shape.
Just like in humans, unclean teeth in pets lead to buildup of plaque, which hardens and calcifies into tartar. Untreated, both plaque and tartar can work their way under the gum line and cause infection, inflammation, and weakening of the tooth socket and jaw bone. In later and more severe stages, bacteria that build up in the space under the gum line can enter the bloodstream, where they can cause negative changes and disease in the heart, liver, and kidneys, and weaken the immune system.
By the time a pet is 3 years old, he or she will very likely be showing signs of early gum disease. Certain breeds, especially smaller breeds with crowded teeth, older pets, and individual animals who groom themselves frequently may be at a higher risk of periodontal disease than most.
How do you know if your pet has periodontal issues? Check for the following signs:
- Bad breath
- Red, inflamed, gums
- Plaque/tartar buildup along the teeth and gum line
- Pain and sensitivity in the mouth, and/or a refusal to eat
These can all be early signs of gum disease and signal that a pet is overdue for a dental cleaning. Other dental issues, including broken teeth, cavities, and loose and/or retained teeth should all warrant a trip to the Vet’s office as well.
The most important factor in treating periodontal disease in pets is early detection and treatment. All pets should get regular dental visits, including a cleaning at least once a year. The procedure is very similar to your own dental cleanings: the Veterinarian will scrape the plaque and tartar away and polish the teeth. X-rays of your pet’s mouth may be necessary to check the health of the teeth below the gum line, where most periodontal disease occurs. Extractions, repairs, and other therapies may be performed as needed.
Anesthesia, if the pet can tolerate it, is highly recommended for dental cleanings for a few reasons. Anesthesia lessens the pain and anxiety a pet will experience from a dental cleaning, and keeping a pet sedated enables the Veterinarian to clean the surfaces under the gums and take X-rays if need be. In addition, giving a pet anesthesia keeps them from accidentally injuring themselves (or their Vet!) with dental equipment. A dental cleaning under anesthesia is also an excellent time to get a biopsy done to preserve your pet’s genetics – see our website or call 1-888-876-6104 for more details. Sedating a pet might sound scary, but pet anesthesia is the safest it has ever been and has a very low risk of complications.
The absolute best way to prevent and even reverse gum disease is with daily brushing. Finger brushes give more maneuverability and may be easier for a pet to tolerate than traditional tooth brushes. If your pet won’t tolerate having their teeth brushed once a day, try for at least a few times a week. The more often the teeth are brushed, the lower the risk is of periodontal disease setting in. Cats will probably be harder to work with; cat owners should check with their Vet for strategies to keep their feline friend’s dental health under control.
There are a variety of dental care products on the market, including brushes/tools, diets, toys, and treats, that are designed to help keep a pet’s mouth healthy. Pet owners considering these options should consult with their Veterinarian or ask for their recommendations. Owners shopping for dental toys or other products should keep an eye out for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC)’s seal that indicates the product is effective in reducing the production of plaque and tartar.
With a little bit of time and effort (and regular teeth cleanings!), owners can keep their pet’s pearly whites clean, healthy, and pain-free. Most importantly, pet parents who focus on dental health can enjoy their companions for much longer – the AVMA suggests that good dental hygiene (along with a healthy lifestyle) can extend a pet’s lifespan up to 5 years!