Pet Dental Care: 101 (Tips & Tricks Inside)

Many humans ignore their dental hygiene until pain motivates them to seek professional help. Aside from suffering other side effects such as bad breath and difficulty eating, patients end up paying a premium amount for emergency care. Preventive care can reduce costs and help patients avoid serious issues. The same is true for cats and dogs.

Teeth and Overall Health

Many pet owners neglect to pay attention to their pet’s teeth. Broken teeth and inflamed gums can cause animals pain, force them to eat less and lead to other health problems.

Pets with healthy teeth can live longer, according to Dr. J.R. Dodd, a clinical professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. A pet’s poor oral hygiene can lead to liver, heart, kidney and joint disease because of the bacteria in the mouth, Dodd said.

Regular dental checkups can help, but owners need to regularly brush or wipe their pet’s teeth. There are plenty of pet toothbrushes and paste available. Dental wipes also do the trick. Toothpaste humans use may make a pet sick.

Dental chew toys and water additives also can help reduce bacteria and plaque in a pet’s mouth. When owners pay regular attention to their pet’s oral care, they are more likely to spot signs of more serious problems. Gum bleeding, tooth sensitivity and change in eating habits can be signs of problematic dental health conditions, according to the Texas A&M veterinary experts.

Other signs of oral health problems are blood on toys, facial swelling and dropping food, James Salmon reported for The Daily Mail. Most veterinarians say owners should brush their pet’s teeth every day. A small percent say twice a day. A chew stick is not enough to ensure good oral health.

Dragon Breath

A sure sign of a pet with infected teeth is dragon breath, says Dr. Bonnie Jones of Delphos Animal Hospital in Ohio. Bacteria from dental disease can enter the lymph nodes and blood stream. This can lead to heart, kidney and liver problems.

To remove infected teeth, the staff at a dental hospital will administer a general anesthesia. Often they perform X-rays in addition to a visual examination of the inside of the pet’s mouth. If diseased teeth are present, technicians extract them.

Technicians then flush out the extraction sites and possibly sew them up. Finally, technicians polish the remaining teeth and apply dental sealant. The sealant protects the gums and lasts for about six months. A pet’s disposition often quickly improves after oral surgery.

Jones recommends pets receive an oral exam twice a year. Pets are not good at communicating dental discomfort, but a dull to tragic express is a gave-away, Jones says.

If after a cleaning, the pet continues to have bad breath then changing its diet may help. Feeding pets human food can be bad for their oral and overall health, says veterinarian Jeff Kahler in Modesto, Calif. Carrots and bones tend to the best substitute for food formulated for pets. Their digestive systems function differently than human’s digestive systems.

Anesthesia-free cleanings

Cleaning a pet’s teeth without a veterinarian first administering anesthesia can be dangerous for the pet and those working on him. The idea that a pet will not move while a technician uses sharp dental instruments to clean the animal’s teeth may be unrealistic. Trying to get a human to sit still during a cleaning is difficult enough.

Performing a dental cleaning on a pet who has been sedated can be more thorough, says veterinarian Julo Lopez. An anesthesia-free cleaning may be comparable to a teeth whitening process.

Technicians need to be able to move the pet’s tongue during a proper dental cleaning procedure, Lopez says. Trying to clean under a pet’s gums while they are awake is a good way to be bitten. Pets can get very violent during an anesthesia-free cleaning. Lopez says he has treated many animals who suffered injuries while fighting to get free during an anesthesia-free procedure.

If the pet cannot be sedated because of a health condition and he has a calm demeanor, an anesthesia-free cleaning may be better than nothing.

The reduced cost of an anesthesia-free cleaning may be what attracts many pet owners to the procedure. A traditional cleaning in which the veterinarian sedates the pet can cost $300 to $500. A cleaning without anesthesia can cost $100.

Periodontal disease

Most pets have bad breath. Periodontal disease can be found in 85 percent of pets, says Diane Ting, of Parent Herald. Plaque buildup is the first step toward the disease.

Plaque can be removed by standard brushing, but if it stays on the teeth too long, it can harden and become tartar. This can only be removed by a professional. If plaque or tartar gets under the gum line,   gingivitis can occur, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Gums infected with gingivitis often are inflamed, swollen and bleed. The good news is if properly treated, the patient will not lose any teeth because the disease does not cause bone or tissue loss.

Periodontal disease is the jump from gingivitis. Bacteria causes bone and tissue supporting the teeth to break down and die, according to the American Academy of Periodontology. The gums separate from the teeth, and pockets formed can become infected. This leads to tooth loss and can be the start of other diseases in the body such as heart disease and diabetes.

Even with good daily oral care and regular checkups, pets probably will require a dental procedure beyond a cleaning during their lifetime. Owners would be wise to plan for the expense, says veterinarian Brooke Cory of Cold Lake Veterinary Clinic in Alberta, Canada.


Pet owners who care about their pet’s oral and overall health should not ignore their bad breath or other signs of dental problems. Regular brushing starting from an early age can keep a pet healthy and reduce veterinary costs. A pet who is exhibiting signs of oral pain or discomfort should not be ignored. The sooner they visit a veterinarian the better.

  • May 23, 2016
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