Myths and facts about pet dental care


You’re the epitome of the perfect pet owner: You take your pet for regular checkups and vaccines, your dog visits the groomer regularly, you feed premium food, and you exercise your pet for 30 minutes a day. But are you taking care of your pet’s teeth?

Just like humans, dogs and cats need regular dental care. When your pet’s teeth are in poor shape, it leads to bad breath and gum disease. When dental disease advances to periodontal disease, it can lead to organ damage of the liver, kidney, or heart.

Myth: Animal mouths are cleaner than human mouths.
Fact: Dental disease is the No. 1 diagnosis in dogs and cats.

Bacterial counts in human mouths, dog mouth, and cat mouths vary in different studies leading to this myth. The truth is, dogs and cats have more bacteria than you care to count. The bacteria creates a film on the surface of the teeth (plaque) which then combines with minerals in saliva to form tartar. In the end, the bacteria and tartar damage the teeth, gums, and surrounding structures if not addressed with regular dental work.

According to the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC), most dogs and cats have some evidence of periodontal disease by age 3, and very small breeds often develop it before the age of 1. That’s because all dogs have the same number of teeth, and all cats have the same number of teeth – no matter how big or small their mouths are. Periodontal disease includes gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (loss of bone and soft tissue around the teeth).

Dental disease is easy to overlook, as dogs and cats may not show any symptoms. This hidden problem makes annual dental exams of utmost importance to your pet’s health, so your veterinarian can look for signs of dental disease.

Myth: It’s impossible to tell my pet is having dental problems.
Fact: While subtle, there are many signs of dental disease.

Periodontal disease is often silent, a hidden condition of cats and dogs. When signs of periodontal disease exist, they include:

  • Bad breath
  • Excessive drooling
  • Reluctance to eat
  • Whining while eating
  • Pawing at the face
  • Discolored teeth
  • Excessive licking around the mouth and nose

Even if your pet isn’t exhibiting any of these signs, he or she may still be due for a dental exam if he or she:

  • Hasn’t had an exam in more than a year
  • Does not receive regular dental care
  • Chews abrasive substances, such as rocks

Myth: Pets don’t need professional teeth cleanings,
Fact: Dogs and cats need regular dental exams and teeth cleanings.

When your pet receives dental services at Cahaba Valley Animal Clinic, you should expect a full day’s stay. First, we evaluate your pet’s fitness for anesthesia, often running a health screen. For a complete dental exam, radiographs, and dental work, your pet is under a safe general anesthesia. We take dental radiographs (x-rays) to evaluate the structures in the mouth we cannot see. We then perform an ultrasonic scaling above and below the gum line to remove plaque and calculus. Afterwards, we polish the teeth to help prevent plaque-forming bacteria from attaching to the teeth.

We recommend an annual dental exam so we can visually inspect the teeth for cracked or loose teeth, recessed gums, or obvious plaque and tartar. We recommend one dental cleaning per year, too.

Myth: A dental chew is all my pet needs to have healthy teeth.
Fact: You should be brushing your pet’s teeth once a day.

While professional dental care is important, at-home care is just as important. Just like your own teeth, you need to keep your pets’ teeth in top shape between professional cleanings. This includes daily or nearly-daily brushing with a toothbrush and pet-friendly toothpaste. Do not use human toothpaste. Introduce brushing properly, calmly and without pressure, so your dog or cat will accept it. A daily teeth brushing can be a great bonding experience between you and your pet.

You can also give your dogs dental chews or certain human foods, such as carrots, that promote healthy teeth. Dogs and cats enjoy Hill’s T/D diet, a food that promotes dental health and helps you with daily brushing. Ask a Cahaba Valley Animal Clinic veterinarian if this is a good choice for your pet.

There are no products that can remove tartar and calculus that have already accumulated on the teeth – only a professional cleaning can do that. Once your pet has received his or her annual cleaning, however, at-home measures are a great way to keep the mouth healthy until next year.

If you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s dental health, call Cahaba Valley Animal Clinic today to make an appointment.

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