Love Your Pet! It's Pet Dental Health Month!

Love Your Pet!  It's Pet Dental Health Month! article image

Love Your Pet! It’s Pet Dental Health Month By Dr. Sandra J. Platt, DVM Contributed by Vital Magazine,

February is a very special month for veterinary medicine – it’s Pet Dental Health Month! The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats have some kind of oral disease by the age of three, although some experts believe it’s actually much higher. No one debates that it’s one of the most common problems faced by our four-legged family members, though. One thing that has become more apparent with increased understanding of pet health is that dental health impacts the health of the rest of the body. Unfortunately, infection in the mouth, and particularly the gums (aka periodontal disease) is common in dogs. An extraordinarily wide range of bacteria exists in oral fluid and on oral surfaces.

Development of plaque and calculus on teeth causes periodontal disease to develop. Infection of the gums causes bacteria to be introduced into the bloodstream, which then exposes the rest of the body to bacteria.

A number of pet studies have proven association between periodontal disease and microscopic inflammatory or degenerative changes in distant organs such as the kidney, liver, and heart. Neglecting your pet’s teeth and gums can also cause chronic pain issues that may even be at the center of certain behavioral problems.

So, what’s the good news in all this? Do all pets require annual dental exams under general anesthesia? Should we ignore dental disease? NO!

Although periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition in cats and dogs, the good news is that it’s completely preventable. Tooth brushing is the gold standard of canine and feline oral health. But oral hygiene can include more than brushing. The Veterinary Oral Health Council has a list of products that have met the preset standards for slowing accumulation of plaque and calculus (i.e,. tartar); these products include dental diets, treats, water additives, gels, and toothpastes.

The best way to confirm efficacy of a product is to look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval. Products with this seal have been evaluated by qualified veterinary dentists and found to be effective. The key is daily use, which is a lot easier if the owner can find a way to make daily oral hygiene a fun interaction.

The four stages of periodontal disease

Stage 1: There is visible tartar buildup on the teeth and slight swelling and redness of the gums.

Stage 2: The gums are more swollen and there can be mild loss of bone around the tooth roots (only visible on x-rays).

Stage 3: Might not look much different from stage 2 based on looking at the teeth, but x-rays show more severe bone loss.

Stage 4: This is the most severe type, with severe tartar accumulation, receded gum lines, tooth damage, and bone loss.

Your pet’s teeth and gums should be checked regularly by your veterinarian for early signs of a problem and to keep your pet’s mouth healthy. While regular dental checkups are essential to help maintain your pet’s dental health, there are a number of signs that dental disease has already started. If you notice any of the symptoms below, take your pet in to your veterinarian immediately:

• Red swollen gums • Bad breath (similar to the smell of a rotten egg) • Teeth that are broken, loose, discolored or covered in tartar • Abnormal chewing, drooling or dropping food from the mouth • Bleeding from the mouth • Shying away from you when you touch the mouth area • Frequent pawing or rubbing at the face and/or mouth • Weight loss

Take this month to check your pet’s oral health, and make sure you know how to care for their teeth. National Pet Dental Health Month is the perfect time to call your veterinarian and schedule a dental check-up for your furry family members.

How to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth

Although it’s never too late to start, it’s best to start brushing as early as possible in your canine friend’s life so he or she will become accustomed to the brushing process. Ideally, try to brush your pet’s teeth every day.

What should I use?

Use a moistened dog toothbrush with soft bristles. If you don’t have a specially designed pet toothbrush, you can also use a child’s toothbrush, a finger toothbrush, gauze around a finger or a cotton swab. Do I need special toothpaste?

Pet toothpaste, often flavored like poultry, tuna and other pet-friendly varieties, is your best option. Never use human toothpaste, baking soda or salt. While safe for you, these cleaning agents can be harmful to your dog if swallowed.

At-home teeth cleaning tips: According to, the following tips will make the process easier for you and more comfortable for your pet.

• Do use a specially designed pet toothbrush or a recommended alternative. • Never use human toothpaste. Instead, use pet-safe toothpaste with a flavor favorable to your dog’s taste buds. • Give your pet a small sample of the toothpaste to introduce the taste. • Lift the lip to expose the outside surfaces of your pet’s gums and teeth. • Brush with gentle motions to clean the teeth and gums, as you would your own. • Clean the outside (cheek-facing) surfaces, as most pets will not allow you to brush the inside surface of the teeth. • Be sure to reach the back upper molars and canines, as these teeth tend to quickly build up tartar. • Reward your dog with play, petting or a favorite activity to positively reinforce the brushing process.

Contributed by Vital Magazine,