Did you know that most pets older than age 3 have some stage of dental disease? Regular dental care is essential to your pet’s overall health, and a neglected mouth can become infected and painful, spreading disease to other parts of the body, including the heart, liver, and kidneys. February is National Pet Dental Health Month and the perfect time to ensure your pet’s oral hygiene is top-notch. Our team at Southern Kern Veterinary Clinic shares tips to keep your pet’s mouth clean and prevent painful dental diseases.

Why your pet’s dental health matters

After your pet eats, bacteria in the mouth feed on small food particles and create plaque, a slimy film on the teeth. Unless plaque is removed regularly, it will continue to accumulate, eventually hardening into tartar, a brown calcified substance. Untreated tartar also accumulates on the tooth crown and under the gumline, eventually leading to inflammation (i.e., gingivitis). Dental disease is not only uncomfortable, but also painful, and can lead to serious problems such as bone and tooth loss, and heart and kidney problems.

Dental disease signs in pets

About 60% of the tooth and its surrounding structures are hidden by gum tissue, so dental disease can be difficult to spot unless issues above the gumline are visible. Pets’ stoic nature is why conducting regular at-home dental checks and scheduling regular veterinary visits is essential to catching a potential issue before your pet suffers needlessly. Visible dental disease signs in pets include:

  • Bad breath
  • Brown, grey, and yellow tartar buildup on the teeth
  • Red, swollen, receding, or bleeding gums
  • Excessive, ropy, or bloody saliva
  • Loose, worn, broken, or missing teeth
  • Refusal to eat hard food and treats
  • Reluctance to play with chew toys
  • Chewing on one side of the mouth
  • Dropping food while eating

Professional veterinary dental care for pets

You visit your dentist for twice-yearly cleanings, and your pet requires similar care to keep their mouth in tip-top shape. Routine preventive dental care is similar to the care you receive at your own dentist. The main difference is that your pet is sedated and anesthetized to keep them and our veterinary team safe during dental procedures. 

During your pet’s annual dental evaluation, we will let you know if your pet needs a dental cleaning to remove plaque and tartar above and below their gumline. Plaque is continuously deposited on your pet’s teeth by oral bacteria and quickly hardens to cement-like tartar if not brushed off regularly. Toothbrushing removes plaque before it mineralizes, but brushing cannot remove tartar once it forms—only a professional cleaning can accomplish this. Your pet’s complete professional dental cleaning will include: 

  • Scaling tartar from all tooth surfaces, above and below the gumline
  • Polishing each tooth to remove microscopic etchings the scaling has created, to prevent bacteria adherence
  • 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

At-home dental care for your pet

Professional dental care is essential to maintain your pet’s dental health. However, at-home care is also necessary. Keep your pet’s mouth healthy with a well-rounded at-home dental care routine that includes:

  • Daily toothbrushing — Although regular professional dental cleanings are critical, the tartar that is removed will quickly accumulate again if plaque is not scrubbed away through regular toothbrushing. To brush your pet’s teeth properly, follow these tips:
    • Use only pet-safe toothpaste. Never use dental products intended for people because they contain fluoride, which is toxic to pets.
    • Use a small child’s toothbrush or a pet toothbrush.
    • Start by allowing your pet to lick toothpaste from your finger, and then rub your finger along their outer tooth surface. Gradually work up to using the toothbrush to brush their teeth gently.
    • Focus on the outer surfaces of your pet’s teeth—their tongue removes plaque from the inner surfaces. Reward your pet with a special treat, toy, or activity after each toothbrushing session so they form a positive association with the routine.
  • Dental products —  Chewing an appropriate dental treat can substantially decrease plaque and tartar accumulation on your pet’s teeth. Give your pet the most effective dental products, those that have received the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of acceptance. The VOHC awards their seal only to products proven to slow the accumulation of plaque and tartar, something that not all so-called pet dental health products can do.

Now is the perfect time to enhance your pet’s dental health. Schedule a consultation with our team at Southern Kern Veterinary Clinic to ensure your pet’s mouth is healthy.