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Pets Have Teeth Too!
by Hillary Frank, DVM, DABVP (Avian)

What would happen if you stopped brushing your own teeth? Dogs and cats should have their teeth brushed once daily as well. Although cavities are not common, 80% of dogs and cats over three years of age suffer from periodontal disease. If untreated, the gum disease can lead to pain and tooth loss. These infections can spread harmful bacteria to the heart valves, lungs, liver, and kidneys.

Preventing dental disease is a very important part of caring for your pet, and it is just as important as regular vaccinations and a healthy diet. Training kittens and puppies and even adult pets to have their teeth brushed is essential to maintaining proper oral health. Routine brushing and professional cleanings by your veterinarian are critical to keep the dental disease under control and prevent permanent, irreversible changes. Periodontal pockets, resorptive lesions, or broken teeth can be located and treated to reduce pain and prevent further health risks and infection. A chipped tooth exposes the pulp canal to bacteria and an infected tooth can quietly be destroying surrounding bone. A dead tooth is like having a large splinter in the mouth and should be treated immediately.

A tiny speck of plaque can contain over 1 trillion bacteria. Plaque under the gumline and covering the tooth crown can harden into tartar within 24 hours. Using special diets to help reduce the plaque formation is one easy way to slow the progress of dental disease. Other methods to reduce plaque include dental chews, water additives, oral rinses, brushing the teeth with pet toothpaste, and a protective weekly treatment you can apply at home. Be careful not to allow your pet to chew on items that are too hard such as cow bones and cow hooves, which can easily break teeth.

Ferrets also benefit from brushing regularly, and are prone to break the long canine teeth in front when playing. Other pets can have a different type of dental problem. Rabbits and guinea pigs have cheek teeth and incisors that constantly grow. The proper diet, including plenty of timothy hay, helps to wear these teeth evenly and prevents sharp points from forming and cutting sensitive tissues of the cheek and tongue. These pets should be seen by your veterinarian at least once each year to assess the cheek teeth for problems.

Anesthesia-free dental cleanings have become popular with some clients who are reluctant to have their pets undergo anesthesia. Unfortunately, it is simply a cosmetic procedure, a waste of good money, and in most cases performed illegally. Pets can have severe complications from this type of procedure, ranging from unneeded tooth loss to death.

February is National Pet Dental Health Month! Preventing gingivitis, tooth loss, and dental disease will help keep your pet happy and healthy for many years of love. Ask us how your pet’s teeth are doing and what you can do to get on the path to better pet dental health. If you know of a deserving pet that needs dental care, but finances don’t allow, nominate them for free dental care this month.

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