You may joke about your pet’s bad breath, but the stench actually indicates poor oral health, which is no laughing matter. Pets’ persistent bad breath is one of dental disease’s first signs, along with gum inflammation and discolored teeth. February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and our Madison Street Animal Hospital team members are sinking their teeth into all things dental health. Test your knowledge and brush up your pet’s oral care routine.
Dental health fact #1: Most pets have dental disease by 3 years of age
Many pet owners inadvertently overlook their pet’s dental health. You likely never lift your pet’s lip to take a good look around and assess their teeth, gums, and tongue. Because pets’ oral health is easy to forget, most develop some dental disease by 3 years of age.
Dental health fact #2: Dental disease is painful and affects more than your pet’s mouth
Dental disease—caused by plaque and tartar accumulation, which triggers inflammation—can lead to gum infections, bone and tooth loss, chronic inflammation, and if the bacteria travel to the heart and kidneys—organ damage. You can easily miss your pet’s early dental disease signs unless you inspect their teeth and mouth regularly. The following signs may indicate dental problems:
- Red, inflamed, or bleeding gums
- Gum overgrowth or recession
- Teeth’s brown, yellow, or grey plaque and tartar buildup
- Bad breath
- Excessive salivation
- Reluctance to chew dry food or hard treats
- Grooming or head petting avoidance
- Chewing on one side of the mouth
- Pawing at one side of the mouth
- Blood-tinged drool
Dental health fact #3: Some pets are prone to dental problems
All pets have a dental disease risk, but some pets are more prone to oral health problems. Pay close attention to your pet’s dental health if they fit one of the following categories:
- Small pets — Adult dogs have 42 teeth—20 on the top and 22 on the bottom. While large pets’s mouths can accommodate all their teeth, small pets’ diminutive jaws do not, making them more susceptible to tooth crowding and other dental problems.
- Brachycephalic breeds — Brachycephalic (i.e., flat-faced) pets tend to have abnormally placed and spaced teeth. The overcrowded dentition easily traps plaque and tartar, creating a bacterial breeding ground.
- Senior pets — Your senior pet may experience more dental issues as they age—after their teeth have been subjected to years of wear and tear.
Dental health fact #4: You should brush your pet’s teeth daily
You wouldn’t skip your own daily toothbrushing, and you shouldn’t skip your pet’s either. Brushing is the most effective way to decrease plaque buildup before the sticky matter hardens into tartar. Once your pet has tartar, toothbrushing alone cannot remove this cement-like substance. To establish your pet’s daily toothbrushing routine at home, follow these tips:
- Use a pet-friendly toothbrush and toothpaste — Use a finger brush for hard-to-reach areas if your pet has a small mouth, and use a soft-bristled children’s toothbrush if your pet is large. Never use your own toothpaste to brush your pet’s teeth, because if your pet swallows this, the fluoride can harm them. Brush your pet’s teeth with pet-specific toothpaste, which comes in several tasty flavors.
- Start slowly — If you’ve never brushed your pet’s teeth before, you will have to introduce this process gradually. Start slowly by offering them a taste of the toothpaste, and gently wipe some under your pet’s lip to help acclimate them to feeling toothpaste on their teeth. After your pet accepts your finger swiping along their teeth and gums, offer them a toothbrush with a small amount of toothpaste.
- Brush gently — Use a gentle brushing motion on all tooth surfaces, including the back molars. Although teeth’s inner surfaces facing the tongue are often relatively tartar-free, these surfaces can still develop plaque buildup. When you have successfully finished brushing your pet’s teeth, praise and reward them for a job well done.
Dental health fact #5: Pets need regular professional dental cleanings
In addition to daily brushing, pets require regular dental checkups and professional cleanings to maintain good oral health and prevent problems. A complete professional pet teeth cleaning will include:
- Scaling tartar from the tooth surface, above and below the gumline
- Polishing each tooth smooth to remove microscopic etchings created by scaling, where bacteria can adhere
- Probing the gumline for pockets that indicate periodontal disease
- Irrigating below the gumline to flush away bacteria and debris
- Rinsing the mouth with an antimicrobial solution
Now that you’ve brushed up on your pet’s dental health requirements, you can proactively approach your pet’s oral care by regularly brushing their teeth and scheduling their professional dental assessment. Our veterinary team is ready to tackle your pet’s oral bacteria and tough tartar through a professional dental cleaning. Schedule your pet’s oral health evaluation and professional dental cleaning with our Madison Street Animal Hospital team.
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