Bad breath is a sign of dental disease. In fact, it’s often the first sign of dental disease that an owner will notice. Other signs of dental disease in our pets can include teeth covered in tartar, loose teeth, drooling, bleeding from the mouth or loss of appetite because of mouth pain.
Dental, or periodontal, disease starts when bacteria in the mouth begin to form a sticky substance called plaque on the surface of the teeth. Minerals in the saliva then begin to harden the plaque into tartar. Tartar is the substance that is visible to owners on the teeth. As the plaque and tartar worsen, they spread below the gum line. The bacteria below the gum line secrete toxins that can cause red gums, soft tissue damage and bone loss. Because your pet’s dental health is so important to your pet’s overall health, your vet should regularly check your dog’s mouth to ensure that it stays healthy.
Q: My friend told me she spent several hundred dollars having her pet’s teeth cleaned. Is there anything I can do to prevent my pet from needing this expensive procedure?
There are a lot of options for pet owners to help prevent the accumulation of plaque and tartar. The best method for controlling dental disease is simple teeth brushing. It’s best for dogs and cats to become accustomed at an early age to having their teeth brushed. But older pets can be trained to accept teeth brushing, too. Veterinary dentists recommend daily brushing. There are many brands and types of brushes made specifically for pets. Human toothbrushes can be used as well. Soft-bristled brushes approved by the American Dental Association have rounded bristles that won’t damage gums.
Toothpaste used for pets is mainly for flavor to encourage pets to accept brushing. Don’t use human toothpaste on pets, as it is not meant to be swallowed. Initially, your pet may allow only short sessions with the toothbrush. So focus your attention on the upper teeth on the cheek side. These teeth tend to be most at risk for dental disease. If your pet absolutely will not accept having his or her teeth brushed, or if brushing is not a habit you can incorporate into your lifestyle, other options exist. Owners can apply gels to their pets’ teeth. They also can serve their pets food made specifically to help prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar.
Owners also can use dental treats, including chew sticks or bars. Dental treats are typically purchased based on your pets’ size. Be sure to stick to these recommendations and monitor your pet while he or she is enjoying dental treats. Pets that swallow large portions of these treats rather than chew them are at risk for stomach or intestinal blockage and are not good candidates for these treats.
Veterinary dentists recommend avoiding treats such as bones and hard nylon toys due to the risk of fracturing teeth. Dental care is a commitment. None of these methods will be effective if used on an intermittent basis. Choose one or more methods to which you can commit for the long-term for the best outcome for your pet and you.