Dental Trouble in Pets: What to Watch For and How to Prevent It

Visit Your Veterinarian

The first step in ensuring that your pet’s teeth are taken care of is to take her for professional dental cleanings.

For pets with healthy teeth and gums, cleanings are usually done about once a year. Pets that have severe periodontal disease may require more frequent visits. Your veterinarian will recommend a cleaning schedule based on your pet’s needs. Every pet is unique when it comes to dental disease. “Genetics, breed and luck all play a part in how often you will need to have your pet’s teeth professionally cleaned,” Dr. Cruz says.

One method of cleaning is to use an ultrasonic scaler. Its metal tip moves quickly and vibrates, using a stream of water to remove debris and plaque off teeth. Similar to what happens during a trip to your own dentist, your pet’s teeth will be cleaned both above and below the gumline and then polished.

Your veterinarian may recommend anesthesia for the procedure, because most pets will not sit still for their teeth to be cleaned under the gumline. Your veterinary staff will take plenty of precautions to make undergoing anesthesia as risk free as possible for your pet.

Your veterinarian may perform a preanesthetic exam and will most likely recommend a blood profile screening, which can help rule out preexisting problems that could affect the safety of anesthesia. In addition, today's anesthesia is safer for dogs and cats. Recent clinical advances in anesthesia help ensure that your pet will be alert and virtually back to normal shortly after the cleaning.

Cleaning at Home

Home care is an essential part of keeping your pet’s teeth in tip-top shape. “The best time to start a dental routineis when you first bring home a puppy or kitten,” Dr. Cruz explains. “Your first goal is just to get her used to having her teeth and gums touched.”

Start by simply wiping your pet’s teeth with a damp washcloth wrapped around your finger. Offer your pet lots of praise for being cooperative. After she has gotten used to the washcloth, she can graduate to a pet-safe toothbrush. This method can also work on an older pet that has not previously received home dental care.

Once you are ready to start brushing your pet’s teeth, you will need two essentials:

  • Toothpaste specially formulated for pets. Pet toothpaste comes in all kinds of interesting flavors, including vanilla, beef, chicken and seafood. Avoid using human toothpaste, which can irritate your pet’s stomach if she swallows it.
  • A toothbrush. One that has been specially developed for pets (e.g., a little rubber finger brush for cats, a smaller brush for small dogs) is your best bet. You can always ask your veterinarian for advice on making the brushing experience a positive one for you and your four-legged friend.

You will find that regular professional cleanings, as well as the simple act of daily brushing, will help keep your pet's teeth and gums healthier throughout her life. A little extra care in the short run will lead to important health benefits for years to come.

Toothbrushing Tips

  • Dampen the toothbrush first.
  • Press the toothpaste down to the bottom of the brush. This will help keep your pet from licking the toothpaste off the brush.
  • Take your time introducing this new routine into your pet’s life.

Fighting Dental Disease With Food

Diet can play a role in maintaining your pet’s dental health. Specially formulated dental diets are effective in fighting plaque and tartar buildup. For added assurance, look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s (VOHC) Seal of Acceptance. You can also ask your veterinary staff which diet they recommend.

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