How to Prevent Dental Disease in Your Pet

dental disease in a dog

We see dental disease like this every day. This poor dog has a constant bacterial septicemia from its dirty teeth.

It’s a fact that one of the most common diseases seen by veterinarians today is dental disease.  In fact, it is such a problem that each year, the entire month of February is devoted to promoting dental health and procedures for pets.

Poor dental health not only creates severe oral discomfort for our pets, but also leads to a host of other systemic and potentially very severe health conditions. The tartar that builds up in a cat or dog’s mouth is home to millions of bacteria. As the gums get infected, they allow this bacteria to be seeded into the bloodstream, causing a septicemia. This blood-borne bacteria then gets caught in the capillary beds of internal organs, and sets up infection in those organs. Multiple studies have shown that upwards of 80% of infections in liver, kidneys, and even the heart are caused by dirty teeth and unhealthy gums.

While it is easy to overlook your pet’s dental care, it’s absolutely essential for pet owners to provide appropriate dental care in order to protect the teeth and gums, as well as help to prevent secondary effects on these internal organs.

Common Signs of Dental Disease in Pets

Of course, prevention is always the best option regarding any health condition.  However, it’s important for pet owners to know the warning signs that indicate dental disease has already begun to set in.  Here are a few of the most common symptoms of dental disease in pets:

  • Red and/or irritated gums. Check your pet’s gums from time to time for redness, swelling, or bleeding.
  • A buildup of plaque or tartar on the teeth. Oftentimes this tartar builds heaviest on teeth furthest back in the mouth, where checking the teeth can be difficult, especially on some animals that really resist it.
  • Change in saliva. Though many different things can lead to a change in normal salivation, take note of excessive drooling or discoloration.  If you notice these signs, notify your veterinarian to have your pet’s teeth checked.
  • Bad breath. We are all familiar with “dog breath”.  Even under the best conditions, you aren’t likely to enjoy the way your pooch’s mouth smells, and that’s okay!  However, if there is a lingering offensive odor that you believe is cause for concern, a full dental exam is in order.
  • Wear and Tear. Visual wear and tear on teeth comes with age in any species, but broken or missing teeth can be signs of a bigger problem with your pet’s gums or teeth.
  • Loss of Appetite. A lot of issues can cause your dog to stop eating, all of which should be discussed with your veterinarian immediately.  Regarding dental care, pets (especially dogs) will stop chewing food or toys when their teeth hurt.

The onset of symptoms such as these will likely mean that your pet needs professional veterinary dental care. Remember that the longer you wait, the more your pet suffers.

If there is a buildup of plaque on your pet’s teeth, we will want to do a routine dental cleaning.  This involves general anesthesia and doing a detailed plaque and tartar removal. For the vast majority of our dentals, your pet would be dropped off to our office around 8:00, and in most cases goes home by noon.

Besides these cleanings, there are a lot of things you can do as a pet owner to maintain his healthy teeth and gums and prevent any further deterioration.  Dental care products such as canine toothbrushes, toothpaste, and even mouth wash can all slow down the onslaught of dental disease, and help increase the time between dental cleanings.  When you do dental care at home, always keep an eye out for the warning signs mentioned earlier.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

Where dental disease is concerned, a very small amount of home preventive medicine can go a very long way. If you were to look closely at your pets’ mouth (dogs and cats alike), you’ll see that the molars and premolars are not flat on top like ours. Their molars and premolars are peaked like a mountain range. That’s because they are true carnivores, and these teeth are formed more for shredding than grinding.

Because of this anatomic feature, their teeth in the back of their mouths ride over top of one another, rather than meeting flat on top. And because of that, most of tooth surfaces stay relatively free from tartar. All, that is, except the outside of the upper teeth. The outside of the upper teeth do not rub against the bottom teeth or the tongue, and as such they accumulate tartar much, much faster than the rest of the teeth.

That is important to recognize, because that means if we simply focus our preventive care on this surface, we can double or triple the length of time between dental cleanings. And this helps us out immensely, as we’re able to clean the outside of the upper teeth without opening the pet’s mouth. So, if you can simply wipe or brush off the outside of the upper teeth anywhere from once daily to several times a week, you’ll greatly slow the onset of dental disease in your pet.