According to the American Animal Hospital Association, nearly two-thirds of pets suffer from dental problems because their owners do not provide dental care for them. Imagine what would happen to your own teeth if they were never brushed or examined by a dentist. The same thing can happen with your pet’s teeth. Just as in humans, not brushing leaves bacteria and plaque in your pet’s mouth. As this hardens into tartar and builds up on the teeth, it starts invading between the teeth and gums. Left unchecked, your pet can experience gingivitis, loss of the gum and supporting structures, and eventually the loss of a tooth. Abscessed teeth frequently develop from this process or from a fractured tooth. These can lead to an infection, problems eating, or serious health complications in your pet’s heart, kidneys or liver. Studies show that poor dental care shortens their life span by 20%.
Fortunately there are many steps that can be taken to insure good oral health for pets. Most importantly, you can begin at home by brushing your pet’s teeth regularly, this means every day! Don’t use your toothpaste, it creates suds, which is ok for humans since we can rinse and spit. There are special pet toothbrushes you can use on pets and toothpastes that are ok for pets to swallow. It’s best to start when you first bring your puppy or kitten home, but even an older dog or cat can be taught to tolerate regular brushing. Chewing hard food and playing with hard toys can also help dislodge some of the plaque in your pet’s mouth, but make sure the chew toy is not too hard or your dog could fracture a tooth.
You should also be sure to make regular appointments with your veterinarian for dental care. Dental specialists recommend annual dental cleanings under anesthesia with your veterinarian. He will examine your pet’s teeth and may take x-rays to look for hidden lesions of dental decay, abscesses at the tip of the root, or retained roots from broken teeth. The doctor will remove accumulated plaque, clean and polish your pet’s teeth, and may apply fluoride or a protective sealant. In certain cases your veterinarian may need to perform dental surgery such as a root canal or extraction.
One sign that your pet may be having dental problems is bad breath. Other signs may include a disinterest in eating, drooling, loose teeth, pain when touched, inflamed or red gums, or bleeding. If you notice any of these signs in your pet, it is important to make an appointment with your veterinarian right away. But don't wait for these signs to develop, brush their teeth daily. With annual dental cleanings and treatments and regular brushing, you could prevent these symptoms!
Don’t ignore your pet’s teeth. Work together with your veterinarian to take the steps necessary to insure your pet keeps those pearly whites for a long time to come!
American Animal Hospital Association, Dental Care Guidelines
ASPCA, Ten Steps to Your Dog’s Dental Health