Dental health is vital to your pet’s overall wellbeing, yet many pet owners overlook this important aspect of pet health. Pets with poor dental health often suffer from severe pain and bad breath, and bacteria can spread from the mouth to the rest of the body and damage vital organs. The impacts of dental disease are far-reaching, but proper oral health care—at home, and provided by Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic—can reduce or eliminate the negative impact on your pet. Here are five dental health facts to help pet owners put their pet on the road to better dental health.

#1: Oral bacteria are the root cause of pet dental disease

Typical pet dental disease (i.e., periodontal disease) is the process by which plaque, bacteria, and tartar accumulate on teeth and below the gum line, damaging the gums, tooth ligaments, tooth roots, and jaw bones. Bacteria live normally in your pet’s mouth, but the “bad” bacteria can take over when nourished by plaque and food residues. 

Dental disease is always progressive, and can lead to bad breath, chronic pain, and loose and missing teeth. This process starts when pets are young—most show early signs by age 3—and can become severe in months or years, depending on the individual pet. Severe, untreated dental bacterial infections can spread to vital organs and permanently damage the heart, lungs, kidneys, or liver.

#2: Cats have unique dental needs

Cats can experience periodontal disease the same way as dogs, but also in several unique ways. Periodontal disease severity is usually related to the amount of tartar and associated bacteria in the mouth, but cat-specific conditions often occur with no significant buildup. The immune system and viral infections likely play a large role, but their underlying causes are poorly understood.

  • Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions — Teeth dissolve and are slowly resorbed by the body. Partially resorbed teeth can expose the painful nerve root, and these teeth must be extracted.
  • Stomatitis — This condition results in widespread, painful oral tissue inflammation, redness, swelling, and ulcerations, and requires strategic tooth extractions and medications.

#3: Daily toothbrushing can prevent or slow dental disease

One of the best strategies for delaying dental disease onset or slowing existing disease progression is daily toothbrushing. Brushing with a pet-safe toothbrush removes plaque from visible tooth surfaces, so bacteria, which are the disease building blocks, are less likely to adhere and proliferate. The key to successful toothbrushing is to go slowly, keep the experience positive, and avoid brushing if your pet has painful teeth. If you cannot brush your pet’s teeth safely or without stress, ask your veterinarian for other products that may be helpful.

#4: Professional pet dental cleanings are the gold standard for oral care

While brushing and other home-care products can be highly effective, they cannot remove every bit of plaque or tartar—only regular professional dental cleanings performed by your veterinary team can, and they must be performed while your pet is anesthetized. Most pets need their first professional cleaning around 2 years of age, and then yearly, or possibly more frequently. Each pet is an individual, and your veterinarian can provide the best guidance about dental cleaning frequency. 

During a professional dental cleaning, the veterinary team performs the following steps:

  • Scaling and polishing —Teeth are cleaned using ultrasonic and hand-held instruments to remove plaque above and below the gum line.
  • Dental X-rays — X-rays are necessary to find hidden tooth root problems that may require treatment. In one study, X-rays found abnormalities in 28% of dogs and 41% of cats with normal-looking teeth.
  • Complete oral examination — All teeth are thoroughly examined, and problems are documented in your pet’s chart.
  • Treatment — Extractions are the most common treatment, but antibiotic gels or root planing are other possibilities.

#5: Anesthesia provides safe, comfortable dental care

Pet owners should be aware that anesthesia-free dentistry services are inexpensive for a reason—they are ineffective, stressful, painful, and dangerous. Our practice is accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and we follow their guidelines, and do not offer or support non-anesthetic dentistry. We ensure safe anesthesia by first screening all pets with blood work and other diagnostic tests to determine their overall health, and formulate their individual drug protocol accordingly. Our protocols also provide pain control throughout and after your pet’s procedure to keep them comfortable.

Improving your pet’s oral health translates to a healthier, happier, longer-lived pet who enjoys every food morsel, tug toy, and chew treat to the fullest. Pets with untreated dental disease often live for years with chronic pain, but the team at Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic is here to help. Contact us if you have questions about your pet’s dental health, or to schedule their annual dental examination or anesthetized cleaning.