Caring for Your Pets Teeth

A Great Smile!

A Great Smile!

Teeth.  Everybody has them, including your pet.  Unfortunately, too often they are ignored – leading to many avoidable problems.  Teeth are important structures, needed for such necessities as eating and defense.  In humans, we know when our teeth hurt!  But your pet may not make his problem as obvious, resulting in problems such as weight loss, bad breath, and behavior changes like inappropriate grumpiness, due to pain.  Pets do not display signs of oral pain like people do – the condition must be very severe before owners will notice obvious changes, such as reluctance to eat.  Many people notice that after dental treatment, like removal of diseased teeth their pets act like a younger self (i.e. puppy, kitten), playing and acting happier than before. 

So what sort of problems can pets have with their teeth?  Teeth can be broken, from chewing on things such as rocks, they can become inflamed from trauma (sometimes resulting in the need for removal), and they can accumulate tartar resulting in gum disease and bad breath, just like in humans!  Pets do not develop cavities like people- cats however can develop a similar condition called “resorptive lesions” that result in a hole in the tooth and are very painful like human cavities.  These often necessitate removal of the affected tooth.  Other conditions can also affect the mouth that are not primary tooth problems. For example, tumors can develop in the mouth or abscesses could  develop if foreign objects get stuck in places they shouldn’t.

Regular oral care should be part of any pet’s normal routine.  Brushing of the teeth is a good way to keep teeth clean and can decrease the need for dental cleanings.  Human toothpaste should NEVER be used- the flouride is toxic to pets.  Special toothpaste is available for dogs and cats – it can be purchased from your veterinarian and at most pet supply stores.  There are also products such as oral rinses or water additives that can be used if your pet does not want you in their mouth.  Regular brushing will allow you the opportunity to examine the mouth for changes in pain (evidenced by reluctance to allow the brushing), growths, or broken teeth.  Pets should also be seen by a veterinarian at least one a year for a thorough oral examination.  Special food and chews/toys are also available that can help prevent tartar buildup as well.

If your pet does require a dental cleaning, it must be done under sedation.  While not necessarily painful, the ultrasonic cleaner (the same equipment used for people) produces a high pitched noise that will bother the pet.  The cleaning itself is also a strange sensation.  The teeth will be cleaned with the ultrasonic cleaner then polished.  While the pet is asleep, a more thorough examination can be performed to check for any less obvious problems.  If needed, dental x-rays can be performed to check for any problems below the gums, such as abscess or tooth root disease.  Some problems, such as the resorptive lesions in cats, are not obvious to the naked eye and can only be detected with dental x-rays.  Tooth removals can also be performed at this time if necessary.

A pet’s oral health is just as important as it is to humans.  Taking the proper measures to insure a health mouth and teeth will mean a longer and happier life for your pet.

Written by Cynthia Moon, DVM at Wayside Waifs

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