Getting up close and personal with many pets on a daily basis allows me to observe (and smell) the condition of an animal’s dentition. February is National Pet Dental Health Month. This month’s awareness of pet dental health along with the multiple requests I get to brush a pets teeth during the groom process has lead me to provide a synopsis of dental care recommendations so that you can take steps to optimize your pets health and well being.
The amount of dental maintenance a pet requires varies and is specific to each individual pet. Small dogs and toy breeds are susceptible to periodontal disease and therefore may require more dental care.1 The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends an annual examination of your pets teeth, or sooner if you observe bad breath (this is common!), broken or loose teeth, discolored and tartar covered teeth, abnormal chewing, reduced appetite or refusal to eat, dropping food from the mouth, abnormal chewing or drooling.1
Periodontal disease is common in most pets by the age of 3. While the theory that bacteria from the mouth travel to distant organs to cause damage is an oversimplification and difficult to prove, the chronic inflammation of dental disease negatively impacts overall systemic health (kidney, liver and heart function).2 Plaque and Tartar (calcified plaque) below the gum line is of particular concern as this can lead to jaw bone infection and more severe disease affecting a pet’s overall long-term health.1 It is important for a veterinarian to access and thoroughly remove buildup below the gum line, this is why anesthesia is required. I have tried anesthesia-free dental treatments for my dachshunds, however most of the results are cosmetic; the teeth appear cleaner but gum disease may not be adequately treated.
Prevention is always the best medicine, and so that brings us to the topic of teeth brushing. Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth is the most effective thing you can do for dental health. The key word here is REGULARLY. I admit, I don’t do this, and really most people don’t due to the time and training involved. Many clients ask if I brush teeth. I could… I have done it… I could charge extra for it….but I don’t because it is only once during a groom. How often do I groom each pet? At most I will see a pet monthly. Brushing your pets teeth once every 1-3 months will not combat periodontal disease. Daily brushing is ideal, with at least 2-3 times per week necessary for benefit.2 A well designed study evaluated frequency of brushing in beagles.3 It was determined that brushing daily or every other day produced significantly improved results compared to brushing weekly or every other week.3 If your pet has tartar (calculus or calcified plaque) brushing an already inflamed gingiva will cause pain and animal aversion,2 so check with your veterinarian before you start brushing an older pets teeth.
Dental chews and treats can play an important role in dental health. There are many products that can help keep plaque at bay as long as they are used as directed. The Veterinary Oral Health Council has a listing of products that when used as directed, meet standards of effectiveness regarding retarding plaque and tartar. Visit https://www.vohc.org/VOHCAcceptedProductsTable_Dogs.pdf
for a listing of products that have been voluntarily submitted for evaluation and meet the standards of the VOHC.
1) American Veterinary Medical Association Pet Dental Care resource for pet owners. Available at: https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/petcare/pet-dental-care Accessed February 9, 2020.
2) 2019 AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. Bellows J et al. available at www.aaha.org accessed February 9, 2020.
3) Harvey C, Serfilippi L, Barnvos D. Effect of Frequency of Brushing Teeth on Plaque and Calculus Accumulation, and Gingivitis in Dogs. Journal of Veterinary Dentistry. 2015;Spring:32(1):16-21.