Let’s Talk About Pet Dental Health and Oral Hygiene

By February 18, 2020Blog

Why? Because Pets have Teeth, Too!

Can you imagine what it would be like if we never brushed our teeth? What if we saw our own dentist only once every several years? Eew! Yet, this is what many pets experience during their lifetime.

And what if we were experiencing pain or discomfort (toothaches, etc., Ouch!) but we couldn’t explain the pain to the person we rely upon to provide care for us? Again, this is the situation with many pets. Adding another layer of complexity, dogs and cats have become experts at hiding pain (it’s hardwired into their brains as a survival tactic).

A good oral care routine does not have to be expensive or complicated – especially if we can diagnose and treat issues before they become serious.

So, what is a good dental care / oral health care routine for pet dogs and cats?

A good oral care routine includes regular at-home tooth brushing coupled with periodic professional dental cleanings and radiographs (dental x-rays).

As partners in your pets’ health care, let’s work together to keep your pets as healthy as possible with a shared goal of avoiding more serious (and costly) medical/surgical interventions in the future.

When it comes to pet teeth cleaning, there is a lot of information (and misinformation) out there on the internet. We thought it might be helpful to put together a list of the more common questions pet parents have asked us over the years – with answers from the experienced veterinary professionals you know and trust here at CoastView Veterinary Hospital.

We’ve also compiled a video playlist “The Tooth. The Whole Tooth. Nothing but The Tooth” on our YouTube Channel (be sure to subscribe!). This playlist includes a demonstration video by our own team member, Leanne, showing the Fear Free way to brush your pet’s teeth at home.

Pet Teeth Cleaning and Pet Dental Health FAQs

Here are answers to several of the most frequently asked questions about professional dental cleanings, anesthesia safety, dental x-rays, at-home dental care routines with yummy dental products your pet may really enjoy.

The vet said my pet needs “a dental” - professional teeth cleaning. What does that mean?

If your veterinarian has prescribed a professional teeth cleaning procedure as part of your pet’s treatment plan, it means your vet has diagnosed some level of disease. This may include visible signs of dental issues including tartar build-up on teeth, swollen gums, fractured teeth, or other signs or symptoms your vet will explain.

And just as with people, your pet’s dental issues will likely get worse, more painful, more harmful, and more costly over time.

It seems expensive. What exactly does the veterinary team do when they clean my pet’s teeth?

It is much more involved than just cleaning teeth. Dr. Laura Schultz, Co-founder and Medical Director, has provided more information about CoastView’s protocols.

Your pet’s teeth, gums, tongue, and surrounding tissue will be examined by your pet’s veterinarian. The doctor is looking for signs of disease including cancer, abscesses, lesions, chipped, cracked or broken teeth, loose teeth, and gingivitis.

Your pet will also get a full set of dental x-rays. We use digital radiography and our staff has been educated to properly use the equipment.

Similar to what your own dentist does, your pet’s veterinary staff will use additional tools and equipment such as an ultrasonic scaler and hand tools to remove the tartar from not only the exposed parts of your pet’s teeth – but also the part hiding below the gum line. Up to two-thirds of your pet’s tooth surface is below the gum line.

Also similar to dentists, your vet will probe around every single tooth in your pet’s mouth to identify – and document – both healthy areas and unhealthy areas such as pockets. The pockets are probed to determine depth. If you’ve heard your own dentist calling out “one-one-two, two-one-three, two-two-four”, etc., your veterinary team does the same thing for your pet’s teeth.

Why do vets have to put my pet under anesthesia just to clean teeth? Isn’t anesthesia dangerous?

As you’ll see in the video here, it is imperative your pet is anesthetized for this procedure in order for the healthcare team to properly, and safely, clean and scale below the gumline. Then, correctly polish the teeth to ensure no abrasions remain on the tooth enamel.

Regarding anesthesia – not only is anesthesia safer than ever, here at CoastView we take additional precautions including preoperative bloodwork, x-rays to identify problem areas which help to minimize the amount of time your pet is anesthetized, preoperative and postoperative pain management, administration of I.V. fluids during the procedure, and an additional – trained & qualified – staff member charged with monitoring your pet during the entire time they are anesthetized. Thus, if you do choose to compare prices, please be sure you are comparing apples-to-apples. If you come across lower-cost options for dental cleanings, ask yourself what the low-cost clinic is not doing in order to be able to offer a lower price.

My friend said her dog’s groomer cleans dogs’ teeth all the time without using any anesthesia - she calls it a Gentle Dental or Anesthetic-Free Teeth Cleaning. Why shouldn’t I just have a groomer clean my pet’s teeth?

Because it is illegal. Only licensed veterinarians can diagnose and treat medical and dental conditions. Also, by only cleaning the tartar above the gum line you are not addressing the real concerns of tartar below the gum line which causes bone loss and tooth decay.

Why is it illegal for non-licensed people to clean pets’ teeth?

Because they often do more harm than good.

Teeth cleaning done by groomers or other well-meaning, but unlicensed, people may make your pet’s teeth appear cleaner at first, but here in the veterinary hospital, we see the problems that arise later. Such as:

1. The extremely small scratches left on the tooth enamel make it easier for microscopic bacteria and colorless plaque to take hold on your pet’s teeth. This can lead to issues worse than the tartar or calculus which was originally observed. Whereas your veterinary team has the education and equipment to ensure your pet’s teeth are correctly polished.

2. Groomers do not have the education or equipment to clean below the gum line and this is where the majority of the problems hide. We speak with many pet parents who now feel as though they were misled (by well-meaning, but unlicensed, providers) into believing their pet’s mouth was healthier than it really was. Meanwhile, the disease progression (below the gum line) continued causing harm to their pet’s teeth, gums, bones, and possibly their heart and liver, too – even though their pet’s teeth appeared to be clean.

Isn’t bad breath normal in most dogs and cats?

While we do expect most pet dogs and cats to have some odor, their breath should not be foul. There’s a difference between “doggy breath” and the odor from periodontal disease. Although describing this odor is difficult to put into words online (still waiting for Google to develop their scratch-n-sniff app), your veterinary team is well-aware of this unique odor.

What causes the foul odor of periodontal disease?

The bacteria. Well, actually the gasses released from the harmful bacteria making a living off of your pet’s gums, tissue, etc.

Fun Fact:

You now have access to a plethora of pet-safe toothpaste, mouth rinse, chew-chews, and even dental-specific kibble to help keep your pet’s teeth and mouth healthy. Does your pet have a favorite? Please let us know in the comment section below. Here is CoastView Vet patient, Wally, when his dental kibble arrives at his front door from CoastView’s online pharmacy.

My pet’s mouth is quite small and her teeth seem so tiny, how much bacteria can really be in there?

According to data from a *Virbac press release, one milligram of plaque can contain one trillion bacteria.

How can periodontal issues cause harm to my pet’s heart?

Harmful bacteria living in the calcified tartar below the gum line can get a free ride through your pet’s bloodstream and end up in your pet’s heart, liver, or sometimes their brain.

How can periodontal disease cause harm to my pet’s liver?

Every time your pet swallows, harmful bacteria living in their mouth get swallowed, too. Your pet’s liver can be assaulted with bacteria while it is trying to do its day job of removing toxins. In other words, your pet’s liver function can be negatively affected as it has to work overtime. A tired, compromised liver can lead to many other problems.

Once my pet’s teeth have been professionally cleaned and polished, what should I do at home to help keep my pet’s mouth as healthy as possible?

This is our favorite question from pet parents. We have a plethora of products to help keep your pet’s teeth clean. If your pet doesn’t give you the thumbs-up – err – paws-up approval, you can find even more products on this reputable website from the non-profit organization, Veterinary Oral Health Council. Click on “Accepted Products” to see the recently updated lists for dogs or cats.

Well, how did we do? Did we answer your questions? If not, please feel free to contact us. We’d be happy to chat more about CoastView Veterinary’s Fear Free approach to dental health and hygiene.

As partners in your pets’ health care, let’s work together to keep your pets as healthy as possible with a shared goal of avoiding more serious (and costly) medical/surgical interventions in the future.

*Virbac Press Release dated 1-1-10

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