A question I often hear is why does my pet need a dental cleaning? Dental care is a huge aspect of not only veterinary medicine, but also your pets’ health. Imagine you not going to the dentist for 5 years (yes I know that actually happens) and you don’t brush your teeth for 5 years. Imagine all the gunk and debris that would be on your teeth. I know just even waking up in the morning, after I brushed my teeth 8 hours before, my teeth feel gross and I can’t wait to brush them. Now look at your pet. How do you think their teeth feel? Probably not great right? Well let’s talk about some ways to help alleviate that.
The first way is at home dental care. This is always the first step in prevention of tartar build-up. So you brush your teeth everyday- why not do you pets? The key is to start when they are young, get them use to it, and make it a positive experience. Yes, we don’t all get animals when they are young, but that does not mean you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, because you can. After you brush their teeth, give them a reward that they love and only get after brushing. You would reward your kids as they start to learn to brush their teeth when they are young, why not your pet? Only ever use a dog or cat toothpaste, never a human one as they contain ingredients that can be harmful to your pet. There are even medicated wipes now that you simply just swipe over their teeth, less mess than toothpaste.
Ok well what happens if it is a constant struggle, rewards are not working and you are giving up? Don’t worry there are other options! Brushing is the best way but if you are unable to, there are other ways to help prevent and reduce tartar. Water additives are a great start. You simply add a certain amount of the water additive to their water bowl once a day to help fight the bacteria and tartar on their teeth. Most pets do not even notice there is something different in their water. Other options include treats (medicated are the best as they will help above just chewing) and dental care food. There are many options for both- just do your research and ask your vet what they recommend.
So now we get to the big dental care step, a dental scaling and polishing. Most people go to the dentist once, sometimes twice, a year to have their teeth cleaned and polished, so again why shouldn’t your pet? When we scale and polish teeth, we have to place the animal under anesthesia. We are working in their mouths and I don’t think most animals will appreciate that awake. There are some places that do awake dental care. I personally do not recommend this as I do not believe you can truly get the teeth as clean as being asleep, as well as not being able to get the tartar under the gum line. The other importance of anesthesia is allowing us to take dental x-rays. To be very honest, the plate used to receive the x-ray and make the image, well it costs thousands and thousands of dollars. So long story short, we don’t want an animal to bite it, that would be a very expensive tooth mark. So we need them under anesthesia to properly perform dental x-rays. They also need to hold still for a good and diagnostic image to be made. The importance of x-rays is for us to be able to see what is going on up underneath the gum line. Again, you get x-rays when you go to the dentist- why shouldn’t your pet? We are able to visualize the roots and health of the tooth- are their any abscesses, is the tooth dead, is the pulp cavity exposed? The list goes on and on. Think of it like eating an apple. On the outside the apple looks nice and red with a tiny bruise. When you bite into the apple, you notice the bruise is very large and makes the apple not fit to eat. You would have not known how bad the apple was until you looked underneath the skin, that is how dental x-rays work.
So how often should I have my pets teeth scaled and polished? EVERY YEAR. Starting at 1-3 years of age (cats and smaller dogs closer to 1 and large dogs closer to 3), a dental scaling, polishing, and oral exam are strongly recommended. Cats and smaller dogs teeth are closer together, which can cause overcrowding= quicker tartar buildup. Larger dogs teeth are spaced out allowing for slower speed of tartar buildup. The importance of a scaling and polishing is to try to keep the teeth healthy and stay ahead of problems. Trust us, we do not like to have a dog or cat under and have 15+ teeth to extract as they are all mobile, loose, roots exposed, abscessed, etc. There have even been cases of having to pull all the animals teeth! We do not want your pet to loose any teeth, our goal is to help keep them healthy and in their mouth too! A yearly dental scaling and polishing can range anywhere from a couple hundred dollars and up. Well, when you start to talk about extractions, they can increase your bill by hundreds, sometimes, thousands of dollars. By trying to keep ahead of the problems and monitoring your pets gums and tartar- you can help keep their mouth healthy.
The last big factor in dental care is pain. Teeth covered in tartar- that is painful. Look at your pets gums- are they red right along the gum line? That is gingivitis –inflammation of the gums. They are very sensitive at that time and bleed easily. The bacteria that we can’t see on their teeth are causing them to be irritated, so imagine when we can see the tartar how irritated their teeth must be? Hidden under all that tartar can sometimes be extremely painful teeth- roots exposed, abscesses, chipped teeth. Not only is the tartar painful, it is full of bacteria. That bacteria can then get into your pets bloodstream, causing bacteria to seed itself all over their bodies. All that bacteria can lead to issues within other organs in their bodies. Your pet is very stoic and honestly, will not tell you there is a problem until there is a serious problem. Animals, especially dogs, will eat until the sun don’t shine, it is how they are wired. So just because your dog is still eating well and you have not noticed any pain, does not mean they are not in any. The things I see at the clinic, a dog or cat comes in with a broken leg, a foreign body even- they can still want to eat and they are still happy to see us. It is when they get very sick that you know something isn’t right.
So to sum it up- take care of you pets teeth! You want your pet to live the best life they can- keep their teeth healthy! At home dental care as well as annual scaling and polishing are the best way to help stay on top of it.