Your top pet dental questions answered

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A dog with pet insurance holds a toothbrush in his mouth.

By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
Idaho Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Pets need their teeth cleaned too and February is pet dental month! Are Fido’s kisses getting a little stinky? In addition to causing stinky breath, periodontal disease in pets can cause more serious underlying problems, even heart disease or infections of internal organs. That’s why veterinarians and pet health care workers team up every month of February to remind us to have our pet’s teeth examined by a veterinarian.

Here are some of the more common questions regarding your pet’s teeth:

Why should I brush my cat’s or dog’s teeth?
Removing plaque daily is important, as it is the precursor to tartar or calculus. Plaque is basically a film of bacteria that can irritate the gums. Tartar can’t be brushed off once it forms, and will eventually lead to further infection, loosening the tooth and eventually destroying it. In addition to loose teeth, infection under the gumline can spread to the liver, kidneys, and heart.

How can I possibly brush Fido’s teeth?
With a little patience, creativity and praise, teeth brushing can become a regular part of your pet’s routine. Use a soft-bristled, or finger toothbrush. Use animal specific tooth paste (Don’t use human toothpaste! It can be toxic to animals). Be patient and go slowly.

How often does my pet need to have teeth professionally cleaned by the veterinarian?
This depends completely on the degree of plaque and tartar accumulation. Try examining your pet’s teeth monthly; look for an accumulation of yellow or brown material at the area where the tooth meets the gumline. If you are uncertain, call and schedule an appointment for your veterinarian to examine.

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The intervals between professional teeth cleaning procedures will depend on how often you can brush your pet’s teeth. Once or twice daily cleaning is optimum for good pet health, but anything is better than none!

Can I just take my fingernail and scrape off the calculus? Or can I have the groomer do a good brushing without anesthesia?
No! Dental disease occurs below the gum line as well. Pets need to be asleep in order for the insides and backs of the molars to be adequately addressed. Even the nicest dog won’t sit still enough for a thorough periodontal treatment. Also, if the tooth surface is scraped, this can leave small defects in the enamel that will exacerbate the problem, causing more plaque and tartar to form.

Does my pet have to anesthetized?
Yes, anesthesia is completely necessary when performing a proper teeth cleaning. Anesthesia provides three important functions: immobilization in order to clean below the gum line, pain control if a tooth needs to be extracted, and the ability to place a tube into the windpipe, to protect the respiratory system from bacteria.

Is anesthesia safe though?
Veterinarians will always take every precaution to provide safe anesthesia. Make sure your veterinarian runs a blood panel prior to anesthesia and uses up-to-date monitoring equipment. Most veterinary clinics should have the ability to monitor blood pressure, respiration, heart rate and rhythm, and oxygenation status, similar to a human hospital.

How much does a tooth cleaning procedure cost?
It is nearly impossible to determine how much the procedure will cost since most pets will not allow a thorough oral exam and certainly won’t allow for dental radiographs to examine the health of tooth roots.

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Are there things other than brushing that I can do at home?
In a word, YES!

-Formulated dental diets typically will have ingredients that help repel plaque, and a crunchy texture that can help scrape the teeth as your pet chews. Diet alone will not control plaque, but it will help.
-Bones, hoofs and ears are not recommended. If the object is harder than teeth, they can lead to fractures. Bones in generally can cause GI problems, even dangerous obstruction and perforation of the bowel and are not recommended. But dental formulated chews with ingredients to help fight plaque can be helpful!
-Dental rinses can disinfect plaque, much like doggie mouthwash, and are sometimes more tolerated that brushing.
-Water additives can also help stop plaque from forming, and can be a part of a complete dental health program.

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How can I tell if my pet is suffering from periodontal disease?
The most common sign is halitosis, or bad breath. Dogs and cats should not give stinky kisses… Bad breath comes from infection. If your pet’s breath does not smell like roses, have a veterinarian create a treatment plan for you.

When should I start worrying about dental problems with my pet?
As soon as puppy or kitten teeth emerge, it’s time to start brushing. Although baby teeth are replaced with adult teeth, the puppy or kitten gets used to the brushing procedure as a part of its normal routine, which should continue for life.

What can be done if my pet has periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease occurs when tooth support structures are affected by infection. In advanced cases, either periodontal surgery or extractions are generally necessary. Veterinary dental specialists are available to perform root canals and crowns, but generally if the tooth is diseased, it will need to be removed.

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My pet had to have lots of teeth extracted, can she still eat her normal food?
Yes! Most pets will do great when the infection causing tooth pain is cured by removing the diseased tooth. Some pets will even eat better than they did before.

Let’s have the month of February be a friendly reminder to take care of our pet’s teeth too. Just think how much more enjoyable those sloppy doggy kisses will be!

For more information about pet health or to learn about pet insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.

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