Brush Up On Dental Care For Your Pet

You may love your dog. But what about your dog’s breath? Bad dog breath is the number one complaint during routine veterinary visits. Most people don’t realize that bad breath can be a sign of an oral infection. To improve your pet’s breath, and health, it’s important to follow a regular oral care regimen.

dentalWhen it comes to dental health, animals face the same problems as people. Odor-causing bacteria builds up on the teeth in the form of plaque. Without intervention, gooey yellow plaque turns into brown tartar. The tartar accumulates and forms a thick, brown substance known as calculus that can grow up over the gum line. Bacteria in the mouth can also cause inflammation of the gums and infect the area around the tooth. Eventually, the tooth will loosen and fall out. Dental problems can also lead to other serious issues such as heart, liver and kidney disease.

As people, we know the importance of brushing and flossing to prevent dental problems, but what are pet owners supposed to do about bacteria in their pets’ mouths? Like people, professional dental exams and teeth cleanings combined with daily cleaning are the best way to maintain your pet’s dental health.

Brushing a pet’s teeth can be a challenge, and your veterinarian can provide helpful techniques to make this a smooth process for you and fun for your pet. You may need to start slowly and brush only part of your pet’s mouth at first, then gradually brush more each day until your pet is used to it. It’s also important to speak calmly to your pet during brushing and give him or her a treat afterwards. Veterinary toothpastes that are flavored like poultry and malt can turn brushing into a treat. There are also special toothbrushes, some that fit right on your finger, which may make your job easier and improves the effectiveness of the brushing.

Oral rinses, as well as other oral enzymatic products, can help maintain your pet’s oral health. The enzymes kill bacteria and freshen breath. For best results, rinsing should be used in combination with brushing twice daily to reduce the bacteria in your pet’s mouth. If your pet will not allow brushing, rinsing with a veterinary approved oral rinse will still help reduce oral bacteria. This will slow the growth of plaque and reduce the chances of inflammation and infection.

If your pet will not allow you to handle his or her mouth at all, there are still options for improving oral health. Enzymatic water additives can be poured into to a pet’s water bowl. Chews containing bacteria fighting enzymes are also available.

Ultimately, regular veterinary visits with oral exams and dental cleanings are the cornerstone to a pet’s oral and dental health. A thorough exam and cleaning can only be done under general anesthesia. This allows the veterinary staff to probe the gum line and radiograph the teeth to look for disease. They can scale the tartar and calculus from the surface of the teeth and under the gum line, and thoroughly polish the dental surface. This helps reduce the ability of future bacteria to cling to the surface of the teeth.

Your pet’s oral and dental health can directly impact their overall health. Routine dental care can be the key to better breath, stronger teeth and a healthier life for your pet.

Originally published October 2014 in the Lake Norman Citizen

Dr. Gretchen Burke is a veterinarian with LakeCross Veterinary in Huntersville. The vets in the big yellow house have been treating pets like family for 20 years. For more information, call 704-948-6300.