dental health

Pet Dental Care for Cats and Dogs

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Your pet’s teeth should be checked at least once a year by your veterinarian for early signs of a problem and to keep your pet’s mouth healthy.

Have your pet’s teeth checked sooner if you observe any of the following problems:

  • bad breath

  • broken or loose teeth

  • extra teeth or retained baby teeth

  • teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar

  • abnormal chewing, drooling, or dropping food from the mouth

  • reduced appetite or refusal to eat

  • pain in or around the mouth

  • bleeding from the mouth

  • swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth

Some pets become irritable when they have dental problems, and any changes in your pet’s behavior should prompt a visit to your veterinarian. Always be careful when evaluating your pet’s mouth, because a painful animal may bite.


Causes of pet dental problems

Although cavities are less common in pets than in people, they can have many of the same dental problems that people can develop:

  • broken teeth and roots

  • periodontal disease

  • abscesses or infected teeth

  • cysts or tumors in the mouth

  • malocclusion, or misalignment of the teeth and bite

  • broken (fractured) jaw

  • palate defects (such as cleft palate)

Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition found in cats and dogs. Early evidence of periodontal disease begin by the pet is around 3 years old. If effective preventive measures aren't taken, the disease will worsen. Early detection and treatment are critical. Advanced periodontal disease can cause severe problems and pain that extend beyond your pet's mouth—including in association with the kidneys, liver, and heart muscle changes.


Why does animal dentistry require anesthesia?

When you go to the dentist, you know that what’s being done is meant to help you and keep your mouth healthy. Your dentist uses techniques to minimize pain and discomfort and can ask you how you are feeling, so you accept the procedures and do your best to keep still. Your pet does not understand the benefit of dental procedures, and he or she reacts by moving, trying to escape, or even biting.

Anesthesia makes it possible to perform the dental procedures with less stress and pain for your pet. In addition, anesthesia allows for a better cleaning because your pet is not moving around and risking injury from the dental equipment. If radiographs (x-rays) are needed, your pet needs to be very still in order to get good images, and this is unlikely without heavy sedation or anesthesia.

Although anesthesia will always have risks, it’s safer now than ever and continues to improve so that the risks are very low and are far outweighed by the benefits. Most pets can go home the same day of the procedure, although they might seem a little groggy for the rest of the day.



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What can I do at home for my pet’s oral health?

Prevention of the most common oral disease in pets consists of frequent removal of the dental plaque and tartar that forms on teeth that are not kept clean. Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth is the single most effective thing you can do to keep their teeth healthy between dental cleanings, and may reduce the frequency or even eliminate the need for periodic dental cleaning by your veterinarian. Daily brushing is best, but it’s not always possible and brushing several times a week can be effective. Most dogs accept brushing, but cats can be a bit more resistant – patience and training are important.

There are many pet products marketed with claims that they improve dental health, but not all of them are effective. Talk with your veterinarian about any dental products, treats, or dental-specific diets you’re considering for your pet, or ask your veterinarian for their recommendation.

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How to Brush Your Dog's Teeth


Step one

Pick the right time.

Brush your dog's teeth when they are calm and relaxed. Your goal is to set a routine. Working up to brushing daily is ideal. But if their mouth is healthy, even three days a week can make a difference. Without brushing, plaque can build up, putting your dog at risk for bad breath, gum disease, and tooth decay. It can also cause painful infection. Severe infection can spread, causing life-threatening conditions.


Step two

Collect your tools.

You'll want to use a toothbrush made for dogs (pick one up at your next vet visit with us!). The bristles are softer and specially angled. Finger brushes can work well for dogs under 30 pounds. For larger dogs, longer handles can give you better reach. Be sure to use dog toothpaste, too. It comes in dog-friendly flavors like poultry or peanut butter. Never use human toothpaste; it contains ingredients that may hurt your dog's stomach.


Step three

Assume the position for optimal control.

Make sure you're in a spot where your dog is comfortable. Don't stand above your dog, hold them down, or take a threatening stance. Instead, try kneeling or sitting in front of or to the side of them. Gauge your dog's anxiety level. If they seem upset, stop, and try again later. You may need to work on mastering each of the following steps over time.


Step Four

Get them used to you touching their gums.

Test your dog's willingness to have you touch their mouth by rubbing your finger along their upper gums and teeth. This will help their get used to the feel of something against their teeth. Use light pressure. You may need to get their comfortable with this over a few sessions before moving on.


Step Five

Test toothpaste taste and texture.

Put some dog toothpaste on your fingertip. Let your dog lick the toothpaste from your fingertip so that they can get used to the texture and taste.

Step Six

Test toothbrush mouthfeel.

When pup is used to you opening and touching their mouth, start using the toothpaste and toothbrush together. Lift their upper lip.

Step Seven

End on a positive note.

When you're finished brushing your dog's teeth, reward them with their favorite treat or extra attention. Also remember that good dental care doesn't end with brushing. Certain chews and treats can also help you fight plaque buildup. Don't forget to schedule regular professional dental cleanings. Talk with your veterinarian about how often is right for your dog.

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Periodontal Disease and Treatment: Dental Scaling

According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), Periodontal disease is the most common clinical disease seen in adult dogs and cats. At three years or older, dogs and cats begin to exhibit signs of periodontal disease. It is completely preventable and reversible in many cases, however, the more severe cases can only prevent further damage with the appropriate tailor-made treatments. In order to effectively prevent, treat, or slow down the destructive effects of periodontal disease, veterinarians need to ensure they are performing the most crucial step of dental scaling: subgingival curettage.


The impact of periodontal disease

Periodontal disease refers to gingival inflammation induced by the bacteria found in plaque and encompasses both gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis refers to inflammation that extends only to the gingiva and not the surrounding periodontal structures. If treated, gingivitis is reversible. If untreated, it may lead to periodontitis as plaque migrates and calculus accumulates under the gingival margin. The proportion of anaerobic bacteria increases in subgingival plaque and triggers an inflammatory response that then destroys surrounding tissues, such as periodontal ligaments and alveolar bone. Destruction of these supportive tissues is permanent.

Periodontitis can have both local and systemic ramifications. Local manifestations include oral pain, periodontal abscesses, oronasal fistulas, osteomyelitis, and pathologic fractures. [include photos] Systemically, periodontal disease can lead to morphologic changes in the kidneys, heart, and liver.


Treatment of periodontal disease

The treatment for periodontal disease is a professional dental cleaning under general anesthesia and home care maintenance. Together, these methods help to remove plaque that triggers the inflammation responsible for damaging tissue.


To remove superficial plaque, home care such as teeth brushing and antiseptic applications are great routine practices.

Vet care

Professional cleanings done by your vet removes mineralized plaque in the form of tartar and calculus from both below and above the gum line. The treatment of gingivitis is aimed at restoring the health of the gingiva and preventing the onset of periodontitis. Treatment of patients with periodontitis aims to prevent localized disease progression and the spread of disease to other teeth.


Periodontal probing

Before a dental cleaning, your vet will perform an oral exam. During this exam, a periodontal probe is used to measure the subgingival pockets. The probe is rounded with a blunt tip that has graduated markings that are gradually inserted at each point in the gingival sulcus. Patients with gingivitis have normal periodontal sulcus depths. However, patients with periodontitis have deeper probing depths than what is typical. The pathogenic periodontal pockets are a result after inflammation progressively destroys the periodontal ligament and causes the epithelial attachment to migrate toward the root’s apex. Vertical alveolar bone loss can also increase periodontal pocket depth.


Subgingival curettage

An integral step to the treatment of periodontal disease is the removal of plaque and calculus above and below the gingival margin. Once the subgingival surface remains free of plaque and debris, the sulcular epithelium can reattach to the tooth root. A failure to remove subgingival calculus will prevent reattachment and allow periodontitis to progress.

According to the American Veterinary Dental Society:

“The most critical part of a dental scaling procedure is scaling the tooth surfaces that are within the gingival pocket … where periodontal disease is active.”

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Don't forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for more recipes, articles, and clinic updates delivered to your inbox (here). Or, you can keep up to date by liking and following our Facebook page (here). We also have additional helpful articles under our tips category (here).