By: Dr. Kyle Clark, B.Sc., D.V.M.
The health of your pet’s mouth is extremely important and therefore it’s essential to take proper care of their teeth to ensure a long and happy life for your pet. You may have heard your own dentist lecture you about too much plaque or tartar buildup on the surface of your teeth. But what are they talking about? Plaque is the accumulation of films of sugar and bacteria on the surface of your tooth. It builds up quickly after a meal and can be brushed away with some simple strokes of the toothbrush or dental floss. If plaque remains on the tooth for too long, it becomes mineralized and is now referred to as tartar (also known as calculus). So just like you, our pets can also form plaque and tartar on their teeth if they aren’t cared for! Plaque and tartar buildup is often first noticed on the part of the tooth above the gum line, and if left untreated, it will progress to the area below the gum-line. This is where it causes the most damage where it often leads to gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and painful periodontal disease. The bacteria from periodontal disease can spread to other organs and cause serious illnesses such as heart disease, kidney disease, and liver disease.
The following are four ways to keep your pet’s teeth and gums healthy:
- Brush Your Pet’s Teeth
I know this sounds crazy to lots of people, but just like how we need to brush our own teeth multiple times per day, it is also very important to brush our pet’s teeth to remove some of that plaque build-up and prevent tartar formation. In fact, by brushing your pet’s teeth, you can decrease the amount of plaque by up to 75%!
Depending on your pet’s personality, it may take a while for your pet to let you into their mouth with a brush. Animals are much more receptive to tooth brushing if they have been introduced to it at a young age, but with enough patience and plenty of rewards, any age of pet will become accustomed to brushing. Your goal is to brush for 30 seconds on each side of the mouth every other day. Use one of your old toothbrushes and a toothpaste meant for pets – human toothpaste is not safe for pets.
- Provide your pet with dental toys, treats, and food
Numerous safe and approved dental chew toys are available. These toys promote mechanical rubbing of the surfaces of their teeth to help grind away food and plaque. The greatest effect is on your pet’s premolars. It is important that you don’t use toys or treats that are too hard (such as bones), or the pets risk breaking their teeth and would be very much counter-productive in this case. There are some brands of food that clean their teeth as your pet chews down. These foods are in the form of kibble and have a high amount of fibre such that the kibble doesn’t break apart as soon as there is any pressure on it. It is important to note that only these specialized dental diets are capable of doing this and so just because you are feeding your pet a hard food diet, does not make it any better for their teeth.
By providing your pet with dental toys, treats, and food, you can reduce the amount of plaque by up to 25%! Products with a seal of acceptance from the Veterinary Oral Health Council indicate that the product meets the standards for effective plaque and tartar control.
- Watch for bad breath
We recognize that at the best of times your pet’s breath doesn’t smell like that bouquet of flowers or even the moderate smell of your Grandma’s famous borscht. If you’re starting to find that their breath is smelling like a seven-day-old dinner, your furry friend has halitosis (bad breath), and it’s a good indication of poor dental health. Halitosis could be a warning sign that he or she has periodontal disease or other oral diseases such as feline stomatitis, a common cat condition that causes painful inflammation of the gums and mouth tissues.
Other warning signs of poor dental and oral health include:
- bleeding gums
- yellow or brown teeth
- pawing at the mouth
- loose or missing teeth
- excess salivation
- difficulty eating
If you notice your pet has halitosis or any of the above warning signs, make an appointment immediately to see your vet.
- Go to see your veterinarian for a dental health check-up and cleaning
With steps 1-3 under your belt, you’re almost at the point where you’re providing optimal care for your pet’s mouth – the only thing to add in now is to go see your veterinarian regularly for dental health check-ups and cleaning (if necessary).
We, as people, need to see our dentist every 6 months for cleaning and check-ups— so why should our pets be any different? We strongly recommend at least annual visits to the vet to ensure that the health of your pet’s mouth is properly looked after. Your vet is capable of diagnosing early signs of dental disease. Most animals are very stoic in nature and often don’t show signs of pain. However, even early dental disease is painful and therefore to prevent the progression of the disease and to stop any pain, it is important to have regular exams by your veterinarian.
Unfortunately, tartar formation on the tooth is not something that can be removed with just brushing their teeth or playing with chew toys – instead, a dental cleaning by your vet is required. Only your vet is able to do this is because very sharp instruments are used to scrape off all the mineralized material that has hardened onto the tooth. We need your pet to stay perfectly still for this procedure and therefore will be required to anesthetize them. During this time, we would also take x-rays of their mouth to look for any signs of disease below the gum line that can’t be seen. This is a very safe procedure and is something that all pets will have to do at least a few times in their life to maintain a healthy mouth.