February is national pet dental health month. I should say that it “was” dental month. Unfortunately, this blog is coming out in April (almost May). So I’m going to use my untimely finishing of this project to emphasize that once a year is not enough focus on dental health to help most pet’s.

Dental disease in dogs and cats starts as early as 2 to 3 years of age. That’s actually pretty astonishing. Think about if you went without dental care or brushing for 2 to 3 years of your life. Your mouth would feel pretty disgusting after a few days let alone a few years.

So your pet can obviously tolerate dental disease better than you can. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have negative consequences. Studies have shown that pet’s who have their teeth taken care of live 2 to 3 years longer than those who don’t. (2 to 3 years seems to be pretty common with this theme).  A recent study also indicated that pets, specifically cats, with dental problems were several times more likely to develop kidney failure than those that had their teeth stay healthy through home maintenance, good genetics and veterinary care.

So now that we know that your pet’s health can be affected by dental disease, when should we start prevention?  For this answer I want you to think about your own dental health. Did your family wait until you were already losing your adult teeth to take care of them? Did they wait until significant amounts of bone were lost? In most cases, the answer is no. Owners and parents alike should start promoting dental health at an early age. It’s very easy to teach a puppy to accept brushing or rubbing the teeth. Daily brushing or rubbing of the teeth can help to prevent most from developing dental disease if it is done daily or every other day with chewy dental treats on the off day. That leaves us with pet’s for which we have missed the opportunity to train them. Some animals will tolerate this as they get older. Some will not tolerate it. This is where a dental cleaning comes into play. If your animal does not permit you to clean their teeth or if the dental disease (plaque, gingivitis and tarter) becomes more prevalent, a dental cleaning under anesthesia will help to reset the process.

The first concern owners have as this discussion proceeds is the cost. To make it simple, cost boils down to how involved the procedure becomes. If you’re able to do the home maintenance, your pet’s dental care can come at almost no additional cost from your veterinarian. We are happy to advise you on how to take care of your pet’s teeth and how to monitor as your pet gets older. As your pet’s dental disease gets worse, your costs increase. Cleaning their teeth when there is a little bit of buildup is often part of a reduced cost package that allows you to save money and keep your pet healthy. As we get into dental imaging, extractions and other procedures, the costs increase considerably. Realize that your pet’s procedures are much the same as what you have done when you go to the dentist. While we may not be filling cavities, we are doing extractions. These are often done surgically to help your pet heal better. This involves equipment, suture, medications and time. This all adds up quickly. So I will leave this part of the discussion with this comment: you can save your pet’s health and your money by starting early.

The next biggest concern is usually the use of anesthesia for this procedure. First, there is no safe and effective alternative to anesthesia when trying to clean your pet’s teeth. Second, a veterinary clinic that offers dental cleanings should be screening your pet for underlying conditions first. If your pet proves to be healthy through this screening, they should use safe medications to reduce the chances of negative response to the drugs used. They should also be well-versed in anesthesia monitoring, efficient cleaning, the use of antimicrobials and standard dental techniques. All of these things allow your veterinarian to move quickly through the procedure thereby reducing the chances of complication. It also means they will know how to safely treat your pet’s teeth to prevent further problems.

So we talked about the why and how, but we haven’t discussed what to look for to know that your pet is in need of such a cleaning. The easiest answer is to ask your veterinarian what they feel is necessary for your pet’s health. Barring that, you have the ability to look at your pet’s mouth and make some decisions. First of all, is there any redness along your pet’s gum line? This indicates infection also known as gingivitis. Second, are your pet’s teeth white to off-white? Is there a brown coating on the surface? These indicate buildup of plaque and tartar. Third, is there an odor to your pet’s mouth? Is this odor consistently there? While all dogs will have some odor to the mouth, a persistent smell much like that of infection or decay is an indication of dental health problems. Any (or all) of these are reasons to have your pet’s teeth evaluated and steps taken to try to help extend and improve your pet’s life and health.

This is the point that I hope you will take from this post:

Focusing on your pet’s health early and often will help your pet stay healthy.  It will also save you the heartache of losing your pet early and the cost of advanced care if and when it becomes necessary.

Good luck and we are here if you need us.