How to care for your pet’s teeth


You may take your dog or cat for routine vaccines and checkups, and even regular grooming. You’re a devoted pet owner, and you would never do anything to endanger your pet’s life. But are you taking care of your pet’s teeth?

Dogs and cats need regular dental care, just like humans do. When your pet’s teeth are in poor shape, it leads to obvious consequences, such as bad breath and gum disease. Worse, when dental disease advances to periodontal disease, it can lead to life-threatening diseases of the liver, kidney, or heart.

How does periodontal disease occur?
Periodontal disease is the most common veterinary diagnosis. According to the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC), most dogs and cats have some evidence of periodontal disease by age 3. Very small breeds are known for developing periodontal disease before their first birthdays!

Dental disease is easy to overlook. Other than bad breath (which doesn’t happen in all pets), there aren’t many symptoms so count on your veterinarian to recognize periodontal disease. This hidden problem makes annual dental exams of utmost importance to your pet’s health.

Periodontal disease includes gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (loss of bone and soft tissue around the teeth). Periodontal disease begins with plaque; plaque occurs when a bacterial film sticks to the surface of the teeth. This is constantly happening. As saliva encounters plaque, minerals in the saliva cause calculus (tartar) to develop. As plaque and tartar spread beneath the gum line, the tissues around the teeth become damaged, leading to tooth loss over time.

Periodontal disease can affect the nasal passages and the jaw bone, and bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream and be carried around the body. Studies in dogs show that dental disease is associated with changes in the heart, liver, and kidneys that can lead to problems.

Signs of deteriorating dental health dogs and cats
Periodontal disease is often silent, a hidden condition of cats and dogs. When signs of periodontal disease exist, they include:

  • Bad breath
  • Reluctance to eat
  • Whining while eating
  • Pawing at the face
  • Excessive drooling
  • Excessive licking around the mouth and nose
  • Discolored teeth

A discolored tooth is a sign of a dead tooth, a tooth that should be removed. Even if your dogs or cats aren’t exhibiting any of the above signs, they may still be due for a dental exam if they:

  • Chew abrasive substances, such as rocks
  • Haven’t had an exam in more than a year
  • Do not receive regular dental care

Professional canine and feline dental care
When your pet receives dental services at Crossroads Pet Hospital, you should expect a full day’s stay. First, we evaluate your pet’s fitness for anesthesia, including a health screen with bloodwork and a urinalysis. For a complete dental exam, radiographs, and dental work, your pet is under a safe, general anesthesia. We perform a full dental examination and take dental radiographs (x-rays) to evaluate the structures in the mouth we cannot see. We then perform an ultrasonic scaling above and below the gum line to remove plaque and calculus. Afterwards, we polish the teeth to help prevent plaque-forming bacteria from attaching to the teeth.

We recommend an annual dental exam so we can visually inspect the teeth for cracked or loose teeth, recessed gums, or obvious plaque and tartar. We recommend one dental cleaning per year, too.

Dental care at home for your dogs and cats
While professional dental care is important, at-home care is just as important. Just like your own teeth, you need to keep your pets’ teeth in top shape between professional cleanings. This includes daily or nearly-daily brushing with a toothbrush and pet-friendly toothpaste. Do not use human toothpaste. Introduce brushing properly–calmly, without pressure; a daily teeth brushing can be a great bonding experience between you and your pet.

You can also give your dogs dental chews or certain human foods, such as carrots, that promote healthy teeth. Certain foods, like Hill’s T/D diet for dogs and cats, also promote dental health; ask a Crossroads Pet Hospital veterinarian if this is a good choice for your pet.

There are no products that can remove tartar and calculus that have already accumulated on the teeth – only a professional cleaning can do that. Once your pet has received his or her annual cleaning, however, at-home measures are a great way to keep the mouth healthy until next year.

If you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s dental health, call Crossroads Pet Hospital today to make an appointment.