Take a bite out of dental disease

Chompers, pearly whites, fangs. No matter what you call them, your pet’s teeth are an important part of their health, and that’s no laughing matter. For the 81 percent of us who don’t brush our pet’s teeth or think about their general oral care, there’s no reason to neglect this vital piece of the healthcare routine. Let’s look at the reasons why, and see if we can decrease that percentage.

Just like with people, dental disease can cause bad breath, painful chewing and tooth discoloration and loss in cats and dogs. When bacteria gets under the gum line, it can lead to inflammation and bleeding and can travel to different organs in the body and cause even more harm.

What can pet owners do to help support their animal’s health? It’s easier than you think. Owners can provide a well-balanced, high quality food for their pet. There are certain prescription and non-prescription foods that target prevention and minimization of dental disease, such as Hills® Prescription Diet® t/d®, which helps to break away excess buildup on the teeth.

There are special dog and cat toothbrushes that are available at many pet stores and veterinary offices, as well as toothpaste formulated especially for dogs and cats in tasty flavors like beef or poultry—well, tasty for your pet, that is. Your minty fresh toothpaste is not safe for pets even though you might like a whiff of that menthol scent during their slurpy kisses or snuggle time. In the ideal world, pet owners should brush their pets’ teeth daily. “Many pets can be trained to accept a toothbrush and are actually excited to get their teeth brushed every day,” said Dr. Cecily Palamara, chief veterinarian at the Dumb Friends League.

Pets should receive regular veterinary exams, and owners should follow the doctor’s advice for dental cleanings. The only way to remove plaque and tartar from teeth is by having a professional dental cleaning. It’s also an excellent opportunity for the doctor to assess the health of your pet’s mouth, including their tongue, gums and lips.

Our equine friends also need regular dental care. Because horses’ teeth grow continuously throughout their lives, uneven wear can lead to sharp points and edges that cause pain and difficulty chewing. Floating is the process in which horses’ teeth are smoothed and contoured. It has nothing to do with water—a “float” is actually a type of file used in the process. Most horses need to have their teeth floated at least once per year, including a general oral examination.

“Oral health is key to maintaining long term quality of life in our pets. Keeping up with regular veterinary dental care throughout a pet’s life will help to keep their teeth healthy and pain free,” said Palamara. “Many of the homeless pets that we see at the Dumb Friends League have not received any dental care at all. As a result, they come to the League in severe pain and require major dental procedures involving extraction of most of their teeth. This suffering is preventable through regular veterinary dental checkups and cleanings.”

The bottom line is that regular dental care is essential for the comfort, health and well-being of your pets and horses throughout their lives. Don’t wait until your pet’s breath is worse than their bite.