10 facts you need to know to protect your pet’s oral (and overall!) health

Is your cat's bad breath keeping you two from snuggling together? Would you like to give your dog peppermint breath? Contrary to popular belief, “dog breathing” is not normal. In fact, this may be one of the first signs that your furry friend is suffering from dental disease.

What is dental disease?

Dental disease is a painful condition that occurs when bacteria, plaque, and tartar build up on the teeth and become trapped below the gum line. These bacteria can be absorbed into the bloodstream and cause severe damage to other major organs throughout the body. Here are 10 facts you need to know so you can be an advocate for your pet’s oral (and overall) health:

  1. Dental disease begins early in life. By the age of three, most dogs and cats will have some degree of dental disease. Early symptoms of dental disease in pets include bad breath, yellow tartar buildup on teeth, and red and swollen gums.

    Early detection of dental disease in your pet is crucial. If left untreated, it can lead to chronic pain and inflammation. To detect dental disease before it negatively affects your pet's quality of life, AAHA recommends a dental evaluation as part of your pet's regular preventive care exam, which should be performed at least annually.

  2. Dental disease can cause severe, chronic pain in pets. When dental disease is later discovered, your pet has experienced severe, chronic, life-changing pain after years of tartar, plaque, and bacteria buildup leading to infected, inflamed, and diseased teeth. But animals are experts at hiding signs of pain, so you may not notice the pain. Instead, you may notice that your pet is increasingly irritable, lethargic, and has a decreased appetite, changes you may attribute to your pet's age or other lifestyle factors. But after proper and thorough dental surgery, many pet owners report the emergence of “a whole new pet”—one that is happier and more active.
  3. X-rays are vital in diagnosing dental disease. After examining dental radiographs (X-rays) of cats and dogs with apparently normal teeth, veterinarians found that 27.8 percent of dogs and 41.7 percent of cats had diseased teeth. Among pets with abnormal-looking teeth, veterinarians found that 50 percent of dogs and 53 percent of cats had additional diseased teeth.1
  4. Anesthesia makes your pet's dental evaluation and treatment safer and less stressful. During your pet's dental procedures, veterinarians and technicians use sharp, sterile instruments. Animals don't like to stay still while taking X-rays, and these sharp instruments are used to clean their teeth. Placing your pet under anesthesia during the procedure allows your veterinarian to make a more accurate diagnosis and reduce the chance of complications. Your pet will rest comfortably while the veterinary team safely performs a thorough, proper dental cleaning.
  5. Anesthesia is much safer than you think. Before being anesthetized, your pet will be carefully screened with blood work and other tests to make sure she doesn't have underlying conditions. During the dental procedure, trained professionals will work to continuously monitor, record vital signs, and communicate the results to the veterinarian.
  6. Non-anesthesia dental treatment is stressful, unsafe and ineffective. Imagine multiple strangers holding you down and speaking in a language you don’t understand. They shine bright lights in your face and insert sharp, scary instruments into your mouth to pinch and poke. This is what your pet will endure during a non-anesthesia dental procedure. Without anesthesia, it's impossible to see below your pet's gum line with an X-ray. It's also impossible to safely and effectively clean teeth with these sharp tools while your pet is awake.
  7. It is crucial to remove plaque from your teeth below the gum line. In fact, it's more important than scaling the parts of the tooth we can see. Bacteria multiply below the gum line, causing infections deep in the roots of the teeth and jaw, and can spread throughout the body and affect other organs, such as the heart and kidneys.
  8. Your veterinarian may develop a personalized pain regimen to keep your pet comfortable. Although your pet will be anesthetized during the tooth extraction procedure, the anesthetic medication will reduce the amount of general anesthetic required and can last for up to eight hours after the procedure, allowing your pet to rest comfortably. Your veterinarian can order prescription pain medication for your pet to accompany the surgery so he can recover peacefully at home.
  9. Home care is an important part of caring for your pet’s oral health. Brushing your cat or dog's teeth every day promotes good oral health and prevents potentially expensive surgeries down the road. It's easier than you think: There are even special pet toothpastes in flavors like beef, chicken, fish, and peanut butter. (Note: Never use human toothpaste, which may contain ingredients such as xylitol that are toxic to animals.) Additionally, tooth decay can be prevented by feeding your pet a special dental diet (food specifically designed to help maintain oral health). Accumulation of plaque and tartar.
  10. Not all pet dental products are created equal. If you're unable to brush your pet's teeth as often as you'd like, consider using other dental products designed to help maintain your pet's oral hygiene.Be sure to look for approved products Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). Products that are not VOHC approved, or those that are too hard to bend or break easily (such as animal antlers and bones, synthetic bones, etc.) can easily break your pet's teeth.

Because maintaining oral health is critical to keeping cats and dogs healthy and happy, the AAHA has developed dental care guidelines to help your veterinary medical team provide top-notch care.Learn more about 2019 AAHA Guidelines for Dental Care of Dogs and Cats.

refer to

  1. Verstraete FJ, Cass PH, Terpak CH. Diagnostic value of full-mouth X-ray examination in cats. American Journal of Veterinary Research 1998;59(6):692–5.

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