Dental Care for Your Pet

Posted In: Feline Health & Wellness, Canine Health & Wellness

It is estimated that less than 1% of pet owners brush their pet’s teeth, but over 2/3 of dogs over the age of three years have inflammation or infection of the tissues surrounding the teeth (periodontitis). Dr. Arndt from the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America tells us why it is important that your pet has proper dental care and what you can do to make sure your pet maintains healthy teeth and gums.

You may wonder why so many pets have dental problems in the first place. Bacteria is present in all pets’ mouths, and when it is mixed with food and saliva, the combination creates plaque. If plaque isn’t removed, it becomes thicker and starts to damage the periodontal tissue. Left untreated, the bacteria in your pet’s mouth can enter the bloodstream. This can lead to issues such as kidney, liver, or heart disease.

The presence of red swollen gums in your pet’s mouth is damaged tissue. If caught early, this gingivitis can be treated with a professional cleaning. During the procedure, your pet should be under full anesthesia. General Anesthesia, allows a complete examination of all surfaces of your pet’s teeth, a complete cleaning above and below the gum line, and reduces stress for your pet. A hand instrument and an ultrasonic scaler will remove the plaque. Once the teeth are cleaned, they will be polished. If teeth are too damaged by the bacteria, your veterinarian may choose to remove some of the teeth.

Many times a pet’s teeth may not look that bad, but a thorough examination may show signs of early dental disease. Frito, a 5-year-old Chihuahua, is a great example of that. Upon first inspection, Frito’s teeth had just a little bit of tarter, and he showed no other signs of dental disease. However, with dental radiographs, we were able to see he had a fractured tooth and recession that resulted in loose, painful teeth. Once Frito’s teeth were cleaned and the bad teeth were extracted, he was pain-free again.

It is important to schedule a dental consultation or discuss dental health with your veterinarian at your pet’s next checkup. As we saw in Frito’s case, problems may not be noticeable upon visual examination. There are some things you can do at home to help with dental health too. Get your pet used to having his mouth handled and his teeth brushed. It is easier to get them used to this at a younger age, but older pets can become comfortable with it too; it just may take a little longer.

Ideally you will want to brush your pet’s teeth every day, but if that isn’t possible, aim for at least two days a week.

Here are some tips from the American Animal Hospital Association on how to brush your pet’s teeth:

To introduce a pet to the idea of dental care, start slowly and in small steps. The most important area to focus on is the gum line (the crevice where the gums meet the teeth), where bacteria and food mix to form plaque. Focusing on the gum line, start at the front of the mouth, then move to the back upper and lower teeth and gum areas. Once your pet is okay with a little bit of touching, introduce a piece of gauze over your finger or a finger brush and rub over your pets front teeth in a gentle and circular motion. 

When your pet can handle the gauze, try brushing with a toothbrush specially designed for pets or a very soft, ultra-sensitive toothbrush designed for people. The bristles should be held at a 45-degree angle to the tooth surface and be moved in an oval motion. Scrub in the gum line, as this is where odor and infection begin. Gradually add dog toothpaste, but never use people toothpaste or baking soda, as both will upset your pet’s stomach.

Use the following process to clean the inside surfaces of your pet’s teeth:

  1. Place your hand over your pet’s muzzle from the top
  2. Gently squeeze and push his lips on one side between the back teeth (to keep his mouth open)
  3. Pull his head back gently so his mouth opens
  4. Brush his teeth on the opposite side
  5. Repeat this process for the other side

The entire process should only take a minute or two. If your dog continues to resist, try gently wrapping him in a large bath towel with only his head sticking out. Above all, avoid stress and keep sessions short and positive. 

Finally, there are many chew toys and treats available to help remove plaque buildup.  When you are considering a treat that your dog will eat, be sure not to overdo it. Some chew treats are high in fat and could contribute to weight gain or upset stomachs.

The Animal Medical Center of Mid-America has veterinarians at two locations that can answer questions about your pet’s health. Call 314-951-1534 or click here to request an appointment online.