Maintaining Healthy Teeth for your Pet

All pet owners know they will have to visit a veterinarian at some point, but you’ll never guess the most widespread health concern among all house pets. Believe it or not, the most common disorder among dogs and cats in 2010 was none other than dental tartar. In fact, according to the State of Pet Health 2011 Report, dental tartar affects 78 percent of dogs and 68 percent of cats. Dental tartar in itself is just one of multiple manifestations of dental disease.

Dental Tartar Origins

Plaque accumulates when food particles and bacteria stick around the pet’s gum line. After a few days without cleaning, the plaque combines with saliva to form tartar. The formation of tartar irritates the gums, leading to gingivitis, which is an early stage of periodontal (gum) disease.

The lack of mainstream teeth-cleaners on the market for pets contributes to this growing problem, and it shows. Most average pet-owners aren’t aware how to go about brushing their pet’s teeth, relying on outside assistance to complete the task. Veterinarians have the technology to clean pet teeth, but may require anesthesia, which requires more money in addition to a higher degree of trust by the owner.

Dental Disease Symptoms

Dental disease affects can spread beyond your pet’s teeth, so don’t assume that your cat’s or dog’s bad breath is the only problem you will have to address at the veterinarian’s office. Like humans, excess plaque can cause more severe problems throughout the body if it is not treated effectively and appropriately. Primary symptoms, that sometimes mean extractions are necessary, in addition to the aforementioned bad breath, include:

–          Drooling and foul saliva

–          Tartar/plaque

–          Difficulty in chewing

–          Pain anywhere around mouth area

–          Limited appetite

–          Tooth loss

–          Discolored/broken/fractured teeth

–          Swelling below the eyes

Most of these symptoms aren’t visible until the pet is already feeling pain, so treatment can be quite difficult beyond that threshold.

Dental Disease Prevention

The lifestyle of a pet depends heavily on what is part of its daily eating regiment. In the case of a dog, it is believed hard kibbles are better for pet dental health than soft due to the natural cleansing that fights off plaque buildup. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) also has a set of Dental Care Guidelines that are recommended to owners of young cats and dogs alike. This includes the testing of the pet’s vital signs under anesthesia, dental radiographs (x-rays), and scaling and polishing. These steps are the pet equivalent to a human’s trip to the dentist.

Just like us, our canine and feline friends need to have their teeth cleaned on a regular basis, usually around three times a week. This is where you, the owner, come into play. The brushing process is one which can be an uncomfortable nuisance if not done properly, which is why it is important to follow these steps.

–          Start with your finger.  Dip your finger into water or broth and gently rub your dog/cat’s teeth and gums to get them used to you handling their mouths

–          Once the pet feels comfortable, use a toothbrush or finger brush to brush the teeth’s surface in an oval motion. Make sure to use a soft veterinary toothpaste, and not human toothpaste. Human toothpaste has detergents than can upset a pet’s tummy.

–          Examine for swollen gums, tartar stains, or damaged teeth.

–          If your pet is comfortable with the cleaning of the outside of their teeth, you can try to get their inside surfaces as well. To clean the inside surface of your dog’s teeth, place your hand over its muzzle from the top. Then gently push its lips on one side between the back teeth, before brushing the teeth on the opposite side of its mouth. When brushing a cat’s teeth, it is best to gently rub along the gum line inside the lip with one hand while holding the head steady with the other.

If you’re having a hard time brushing then this article discusses some alternatives to standard dental brushing.