February: Dental Health Month

February is national pet dental health month.  In my opinion, every month should be pet dental health month.  This is why:

  1. Good dental health is the easiest way to extend your pets’ healthy life for 2 or more years. Professional annual to semi-annual cleanings lower the bacteria cultures in the mouth dramatically. These bacteria lodge in the periodontal pockets located between the teeth and gingiva below the gumline. They create inflammation and every time your pets chew the bacteria pass through the inflamed tissue into the bloodstream where they lodge on heart valves, the kidneys, the liver and just about anywhere in the body. Once there, they propagate and  cause premature kidney, heart, and/or liver disease.

  2. You don’t have to put up with that horrid breath created by the bacteria in the mouth. The bacteria propagate and destroy tissue including the support bone around the teeth. Toxins are produced from tissue destruction and bacterial byproducts (excrement). The end result is a foul smelling breath. We’ve seen mouths that have been neglected so long that a room is vacated whenever the pet enters.

  3. You stop the pain and discomfort that your pet is suffering.  Usually the owner does not recognize this because the survival instinct is incredibly strong and their threshold of pain is generally higher than humans (we’re wimps). Animals adapt and and do whatever is necessary to eat to maintain body weight. They’ll shift food to the less infected side of the mouth or swallow the food whole or simply chew through the pain.

  4. It’s good for your family’s health and well-being, too. Your kids, and lets face it, you, love those doggie kisses. So lets keep their mouths healthy and avoid bacteria showers to human faces.

Have I sold you?...good. The next question is how to we keep our pets mouth healthy.

  1. Have your pet’s mouth checked at least annually. Make sure it is included in their annual exam.  And to celebrate Pet Dental Health Month we offer FREE oral exams for the entire month of February.

  2. Start annual professional dental cleanings by at least 3 years of age. We’ve found some have to start as early as 6 months of age at the time of their spay or neuter.

  3. Each pet's’ mouth is different. The ph of the saliva and other genetic traits create oral environments that vary. Some pets need annual cleanings and rarely some need less cleanings. Some need cleaning twice a year or more. Have their mouth checked every time you’re in.

  4. For dogs, start home dental care as early as 3 months of age. Start by massaging their gums with your fingers as puppies and kittens to get them accustomed to dental massage. Once they are comfortable with this add pet dentifrices on your finger. These are flavored toothpastes made for dogs and cats. Do not use human toothpaste because it should not be swallowed. Once they are used to the finger brushing, gradually introduce a soft bristled brush. Small finger brushes are available for cats. We use soft bristled brushes because we want the gumline massaged. This is where most of the oral disease occurs in pets. Start by brushing the outside of the upper teeth. Once accustomed to this add brushing the lower teeth and gum line.  Finally you can start brushing the inside of the teeth. This is the most difficult area as they seem more ‘ticklish’ on the inside. If the inside becomes a war, let it go and concentrate on the outside. This is where 80-90% of the disease occurs anyway. After doing any home dental care always reward them with a healthy treat. Also in addition to training them, train yourself. Do their dental care the same time of day coordinating it with a daily activity of your own. This will avoid that occasional forgetting that tends to develop into several days in a row of forgetting that morphs into “why bother I just can’t remember.”

  5. For adult dogs that were not trained as puppies, get their teeth cleaned and healed first. The worst thing you can do is try to brush a diseased and painful mouth. It hurts and the next time you get the brush out your dog has crawled under the couch to escape. Once the mouth is clean and healed, start the same training described above.

  6. I always recommend an antibacterial rinse after each brush. These are easy to administer. We also carry a powder to be added to the food that is very effective in controlling bacteria and halitosis.

  7. Alternative oral hygiene products are available. Dental diets, water additives, and dental treats are a few. Most are not harmful and some even help. They are usually easy to use as the manufacturer knows that the product will not sell otherwise. I can recommend a few as an adjunct but none will replace daily brushing. For advice, call us.

  8. Cats are not little dogs! Brushing techniques almost always have to be started as kittens. If they are even a little feral they may never be trained. For adult cats I only recommend that special “you can do anything to me” cat for home dental training. Cat bites can be very dangerous to humans so be very careful attempting to train an adult.  For the more fractious cats with problem mouths I do recommend certain dental diets and additives.

  9. Remember, if you note a change in eating pattern, abnormal odor, pawing at mouth, or swelling of face call us. Call us with any questions, please.

What are the downsides to dentistry?... None.

  1. "My pet is old and I’m afraid to anesthetize him/her."  We hear this a lot. First your pet is given an exam followed by bloodwork. If anything appears problematic, the procedure is cancelled until the abnormality is corrected. Second, we use the most modern and short acting anesthetic agents available.  Finally, while under anesthesia the pet is hooked up to monitors and also monitored by an assistant. This monitoring continues through recovery.

  2. “It’s too expensive.” Yes, the average dental cleaning is going to cost between 180.00 to 250.00 dollars. However, if you don’t do annuals you eventually are faced with a pet with a severely diseased mouth with abscessed teeth. Now you are faced with a lengthy  procedure, x-rays, a much longer period of anesthesia, pain meds and antibiotics and a bill of 800 to 1200 dollars. And you’ve lost those years of a pet with a happy mouth. So the answer to “its too expensive” is save your money and get it done. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard on dental rechecks, “Doc, she/he’s like a new dog. I wish I’d had this done years ago.”   

So, please call us with any questions and please take advantage of the free dental exams. And don’t be afraid of home dental care. It’s easy and rewarding.

Next time I’ll review some of the common and less common dental problems we see and treat.           

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