Pet dental care is critical to maintaining your pet’s health and wellbeing. In addition to being extremely painful, oral disease can lead to serious systemic illness. Who knows about dental health better than the Tooth Fairy? Our team at Little Animal Hospital asked the Tooth Fairy to help us offer advice that will ensure your pet’s pearly whites stay pure and pristine.
Tooth Fairy: “You should know all about periodontal disease in pets.”
Little Animal Hospital (LAH): Did you know that the majority of pets have some degree of dental disease by the time they are 3 years of age? That’s a lot of dirty pet mouths. When your pet eats, the food particles that are left behind attract bacteria. These bacteria accumulate on your pet’s teeth, forming plaque. Over time, the plaque solidifies and forms tartar. In addition, the bacteria don’t limit themselves to your pet’s oral cavity—they can invade under your pet’s gum line to break down the structures that support your pet’s teeth, and can enter your pet’s bloodstream, injuring organs throughout your pet’s body. Periodontal disease progresses in four stages.
- Stage one — Periodontal disease starts as gingivitis, which is inflammation of your pet’s gums. Signs your pet may exhibit include red, swollen, and bleeding gums, and bad breath. At this stage, no bone has been lost, and the tooth’s supporting structures are completely intact.
- Stage two — As periodontal disease progresses, your pet’s gums may begin to recede. At this stage, mild bone loss has begun, although this can be appreciated only on X-rays. At least 75% of the tooth’s supporting structures remain intact.
- Stage three — Your pet will likely have some loose teeth. At this stage, moderate bone loss will be visible on X-rays, and 25% to 50% of the tooth’s supporting structures are gone.
- Stage four — Advanced periodontal disease is extremely problematic for your pet. In addition to losing teeth and potentially developing tooth root infections, cats and toy-breed dogs are at risk for jaw fractures.
Tooth Fairy: “Practice with your pet to get them used to their mouth being handled.”
LAH: When your pet is used to their mouth being handled, they will more easily allow procedures that address their dental health. Steps to take include:
- Make it fun — Start by letting your pet lick a yummy treat off your finger, and then gently put your finger under their lip to rub their gums and teeth.
- Open their mouth — Once they are comfortable letting you put your fingers in their mouth, gently open their mouth.
- Practice frequently — Practice at least once a day, until they are comfortable with the situation.
- Give them a treat — Give them a high value treat at the end of every session, to make the experience positive.
Tooth Fairy: “I recommend taking your pet to Little Animal Hospital for regular professional veterinary dental cleanings.”
LAH: The Tooth Fairy is right. Your pet needs regular professional veterinary dental cleanings to keep their mouth healthy. These procedures are the only way to effectively remove the bacteria that accumulate underneath your pet’s gum line, where the most significant problems originate. You can expect the following when you bring in your pet for a professional veterinary dental cleaning.
- Blood work — Your pet will need a complete blood count, to assess their immune status, and a biochemistry profile, to ensure their liver and kidneys are functioning properly.
- General anesthesia — Performing a dental cleaning on an awake pet is not safe for the pet or the veterinary professional performing the procedure. In addition, the necessary cleaning can’t be done effectively if your pet is awake. This means your pet will need to be anesthetized.
- X-rays — Dental X-rays will be needed to fully evaluate your pet’s teeth and their supporting structures.
Tooth Fairy: “Brush your pet’s teeth daily to keep their mouth healthy between cleanings.”
LAH: Brushing your pet’s teeth is the best way to promote their dental health between professional dental cleanings. Ensure you use pet-specific toothpaste, because human products are toxic to pets. You can find many flavors, including seafood, beef, poultry, and peanut butter, that your pet is likely to enjoy. Also, ensure you use a soft bristled brush that won’t hurt your pet’s sensitive gums, and go slowly, so they can acclimate to the procedure. Offer praise while you brush your pet’s teeth, and give them a treat once you are finished.
Tooth Fairy: “Give your pet dental chews to help reduce tartar and plaque.”
LAH: Chewing on dental chews can help remove some plaque and tartar. Avoid hard chews, such as antlers, bones, and hooves, which can injure your pet’s mouth. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) awards a seal of acceptance to products that meet their criteria for effectively controlling plaque and tartar. Look for this seal when shopping for dental chews for your pet.
Tooth Fairy: “Feed your pet a diet to help control plaque and tartar.”
LAH: Some pets may benefit from dental diets specifically formulated to help control plaque and tartar. The kibble pieces are designed to scrape off plaque and tartar, and some diets contain additives that inhibit plaque development. Ask our team if a dental diet is right for your pet.
Follow the Tooth Fairy’s advice to keep your pet’s mouth healthy and clean. If you would like to schedule a professional veterinary dental cleaning for your pet, contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Little Animal Hospital, so the Tooth Fairy has no reason to visit your pet.