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February is National Dental Awareness Month!

January 17, 2018

 When asked what can be done to ensure a pet lives a long, healthy life our doctors typically say one thing: "Keep them lean, keep them on good parasite prevention, and make sure they maintain good dental hygiene." While each one of these steps has their difficulties, (sometimes it's hard to resist giving the extra treat or two, and it's easy to forget a month of prevention here and there) the most willingly missed aspect of care tends to fall on a pet's dental health.


Why are pet owners so willing to skip an important aspect of their pet's health? It seems to boil down to three simple thoughts:


1. People perceive that dental procedures are dangerous due to anesthetic complications.

2. They may think their pet does not need a dental procedure because he/she chews a lot and their teeth look fine.

3. They may be missing information, or are completely unaware that dental procedures exist!


Before I discuss why these thoughts aren't necessarily a reason to keep your pet from the dental table, we should discuss why they are so important in the first place.


Benefits of Good Dental Health:


1. Good dental health may prolong your pet's life.


Keeping your pet's teeth clean may actually make them live longer. Over time, teeth build up plaque and bacteria which hardens on the surface of the tooth into tartar. As your pet swallows, they are ingesting a regular amount of bacteria. This bacteria is ingested, or may enter the blood stream. The body has to process this extra bacteria, which may result in further strain on kidneys, the liver, or the heart. Poor dental health can be linked to worsening heart and kidney problems, and infection can be life threatening if not treated.


2. Halitosis can be treated!


Many pet owners assume that bad doggy breath is normal, but it actually isn't! Bad breath, or halitosis, is caused by bacteria that gives your pet's breath an unpleasant odor. In some cases, bad breath can even indicate dangerous infection under the gum line or a damaged and dying tooth. Keeping your pet's dental hygiene up means better smelling puppy kisses and less pain and discomfort to your pet.


3. An unhealthy mouth may cause pain and discomfort.


If you've ever had a toothache, you are definitely aware of how a painful mouth may drastically change your quality of life. Your pet feels the same pain and discomfort when they have dental disease, though they may be better at hiding it. If your pet is suddenly refusing to eat dry food or has stopped chewing on toys, they may be experiencing severe dental pain!


Anti-Dental Thoughts Debunked!


Now that we know that dental procedures and good oral hygiene have their benefits, it is important to understand that the reasons that keep us away from scheduling a procedure may not be as accurate as we think. 


"Dental procedures are dangerous! They involve anesthesia which can be harmful to my pet!"


Anesthesia does come with risks, but there are ways to minimize this! A doctor should perform an extensive medical exam on your pet before they are ever put under anesthesia to assess if they are healthy enough for a procedure. Veterinarians today would not advise dental procedures if the risks outweighed the benefits, and with modern medicine today anesthetic complications are few and far between. If that's not enough to convince you, ask your doctor about pre-anesthetic diagnostics. Blood work can determine the functionality of the kidneys, liver, and heart before a patient goes under anesthesia to make sure they can metabolize the anesthetic properly.


"My pet's teeth are fine, a dental procedure is unnecessary."


While your pet may have perfect teeth, it is impossible to assess the overall health of your pet's mouth without dental radiographs. Radiographs show what's hiding beneath the gum line. Is there a cracked root? Infected tooth? Abscessed gum? None of these answers can be found without a set of x-rays. 


Too often pet owners use dental procedures as curative medicine when they are ideally meant to be used as preventative medicine. When dental disease is already visible on the surface of the tooth, it is almost guaranteed that disease exists below the gums where it cannot be seen. Routine dental cleanings are encouraged to preserve the health of a pet's teeth. 




"I've never heard of a dental procedure, is it the same as brushing their teeth and giving them dental treats?"


Brushing your pets teeth and offering dental treats are a great idea as prevention. However, once plaque has hardened as tartar, even a good brushing will not remove the yellow, cement like substance. A dental procedure is required to remove that tartar.


What can be done to preserve your pet's teeth without a dental procedure?


While nothing can replace a good dental cleaning, there are many ways to prevent dental disease and extend the life of your pet's oral health between cleanings.


1. Brushing


Just like in people, there are very few things that beats brushing your teeth on a daily basis. Brushing your pet's teeth on a daily basis will reduce the amount of plaque that remains on their teeth. Check out the video below to learn how to brush your pet's teeth. 



 2. Dental Treats and Chews


Dental chews and treats may reduce the amount of plaque that sticks to your pet's teeth in two ways: either with an antibacterial additive that is in them, or through abrasive rubbing of the treat against their teeth. Dental treats are a great idea for pets that never become comfortable with a toothbrush, but should only be used under supervision, as a pet could easily choke.


3. Water Additives


Your veterinarian may recommend a water additive to keep your pets teeth healthy. These are typically a disinfectant that may help to kill bacteria in your pets mouth when they drink water. Many of these are also great at reducing halitosis and bad breath causing bacteria. 



There are many ways to make sure your pet is getting the most out of their oral health. If you have questions regarding your pet's dental health, contact your veterinarian for more advice on what you can do to make sure your pet is staying happy and healthy. Happy National Dental Awareness Month!


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