Look at those pearly whites

By: Angelica Bialek, DVM

Brushing at least every 2 days is recommendedOral hygiene is an important part of pet care. But many owners don't realize that they need to brush their pet's teeth. Ask your veterinarian to show you the proper technique and to offer suggestions on how to get your pet accustomed to brushing. Poor oral health can lead to other health conditions including heart failure.  According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, more then 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have dental disease by age 3.

Symptoms of dental disease vary. Some animals have bad breath (halitosis), and some have mouth pain or swelling under the eye. Some pets stop eating. Others have no symptoms. If you notice any of these conditions, an exam by your veterinarian should be done to determine the extent of dental disease and treatments.

Teeth development. Your pet's deciduous or baby teeth start to fall out at 4 months of age. Some small dogs will not lose their teeth as they normally should and, if left in, they will cause crowding problems. Small dogs can also have more congenital deformities than large dogs, which can cause overcrowding of teeth. More frequent dental exams and cleaning may be needed as well as removal of teeth to achieve a cleaner, healthier mouth.

Dental disease begins as bacterial plaque forms on the teeth. As the substance accumulates, tartar forms. The tartar eventually causes inflammation of the gums, or gingivitis. Any degree of gingivitis is significant and requires a teeth cleaning. If untreated, root infections, recessed gums or systemic problems can occur.

Affected organs. The heart is one of the main organs that can be affected by dental disease. The bacteria from the gums travel through the blood stream and settle on the heart valves. This can lead to heart failure. Other organs that can be affected include the kidneys and liver.

Examination. It is recommended that your pet be seen by a veterinarian annually or biannually for a dental exam as well as a full-body wellness check.  Blood work before teeth cleaning will be done to assess the overall health of your pet.Annual to biannual exams of your pet are recommended.

Teeth cleaning. A thorough cleaning of your pet’s teeth and gums can only be done under general anesthesia. The anesthesia eliminates your pet's anxiety and the discomfort that may come from ultrasonic cleaning. Once the tartar is removed, the gums are cleaned. The teeth are then polished to make it more difficult for bacteria to build up and start the cycle again.

Prevention. If possible, routine preventive care is important. Just as we brush our teeth daily, our pets need brushing too. Brushing your pet's teeth at least every two days is ideal. This routine can prolong periods between dental cleaning as it keeps the gums healthy and prevents tartar build-up. 

Other problems, such as root abscesses, broken teeth or cavities are frequently seen. Your veterinarian can discuss treatment options with you.

Dental care: Essential for a long and healthy life.  As we become more knowledgeable in animal health, we realize that proper dental care does more than just make our pet’s breath smell better. It is an important part of a long and healthy life.

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How To Clean Your Dog's Teeth