Did you know that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show early dental disease signs by 2 years old? This incredibly common disease can be devastating to your pet’s overall health and wellbeing, but you can take steps to prevent dental disease and maintain your pet’s oral health. The Neighborhood Vet has a few tips to help you develop your pet’s ideal oral care routine.

#1: Schedule annual or biannual wellness checks

Dental disease—also called periodontal or gum disease—starts early in life, and may be present without any appreciable outward signs. The slow onset is caused by bacteria and plaque that build up on teeth and sneak below the gumline. The bacteria irritate and damage your pet’s gum, leading to gingivitis and, ultimately, periodontitis (i.e., inflammation and destruction of supporting ligaments, bone, and teeth). Pets can also develop other oral health problems, such as tooth fractures, tooth resorption, extra baby teeth, jawbone cysts, or oral tumors.

Dental disease will progress if left untreated, and can result in significant pain, chronic infection and inflammation, and tooth loss. Early detection and intervention are the best ways to correct the bacterial imbalance and slow disease progression, and regular veterinary wellness visits are the best way to detect dental disease.

#2: Follow recommendations regarding professional dental cleanings

Professional pet dental cleanings are similar to the hygiene care your own dentist provides, except that anesthesia is required. This allows our team to thoroughly clean your pet’s teeth, take X-rays (i.e., radiographs) , protect your pet’s airway from fluids and bacteria, and remove diseased teeth while they rest comfortably and feel no pain or stress. All pets are thoroughly pre-screened (i.e., blood work and chest X-rays, depending on age) to ensure their suitability for anesthesia.

We may recommend a dental cleaning when we note your pet’s first dental disease signs on examination, and periodically thereafter to maintain good oral health. The interval between dental cleanings varies for each individual pet, but small, toy, and flat-faced dogs generally need more frequent cleanings than most cats or large dogs.

#3: Brush your pet’s teeth daily

Removing plaque and tartar (i.e., plaque’s calcified cousin) only during dental cleanings is not enough to maintain your pet’s oral health—daily toothbrushing is also necessary to remove plaque and bacteria. Use a toothpaste made specifically for pets, because human products may contain toxic xylitol sweetener, and try to combine brushing with another daily activity, like a mealtime or bedtime routine.

Start the toothbrushing routine slowly, and use positive reinforcement training techniques to help your pet accept the process. Do not brush your pet’s teeth if they have significant tartar,  visible gum irritation, or exposed roots, which may be painful and will create a negative association. Instead, start brushing after your pet has a professional cleaning and any extractions or treatments have healed. 

#4: Use veterinary oral care products as an adjunct to daily toothbrushing

Commercially marketed pet oral health products, including diets, treats, chews, water additives, wipes, and gels, can be excellent adjuncts to daily toothbrushing, but are not complete substitutes. They are most helpful on days you forget or don’t have time to brush, or for pets who won’t accept brushing, despite their positive training. 

Pet dental products are used to remove plaque and neutralize bacteria, but not all products do this equally well, and some work better for specific pets. A good place to start is the Veterinary Oral Health Council list of approved products, which have been proven safe and effective for pets. Ask our veterinarians to recommend some of these products for your pet’s individual needs.

Products that we recommend for tartar prevention include Whimzees—the alligator and hedgehog forms only—and the Tartar Shield product line (web link to add here). 

#5: Understand your pet’s oral health risks

Recognizing untreated pet dental disease risks can motivate you to develop and stick to a consistent routine. In addition to the pain, bad breath, difficulty chewing, and irreversible damage that periodontal disease can cause, other serious complications may develop. These include:

  • Jaw bone fractures
  • Eye socket or eye inflammation or infection
  • Oronasal fistula (i.e., an abnormal hole between the mouth and nose or sinuses)
  • Disseminated mouth bacteria, which can cause kidney, liver, or heart damage
  • Increased oral cancer risk

Dental heath is not only a cosmetic issue, but also affects your pet’s comfort, quality of life, wellbeing, and longevity. Prioritizing dental care is one of the best things you can do to maintain not only your pet’s oral health, but also their overall health.

By partnering with The Neighborhood Vet and committing to a consistent home care routine, you can maintain your pet’s oral health with ease. Contact us to schedule a wellness visit, dental examination, or professional pet dental cleaning, or if you have additional questions about your pet’s dental care needs.