A Bite Out Of Health: Dental Care for Pets

By Karin Krisher

Despite the fact that there are thousands of proponents of the myth that dental care for petsdogs’ mouths are cleaner than humans’, it remains a myth. Veterinarian Marty Becker, author of Chicken Soup for the Dog Owner’s Soul, notes that the myth probably stems from the fact that dogs do lick their wounds, causing them to heal quickly; however, this healing process is merely accelerated by dead tissue removal, not by some powerful antiseptic located in the dog’s saliva. While some dog owners might want to believe the myth in order to remain in control of their sanity when they receive a smooch from their pooch, others are as mortified as they probably should be.

Even more upsetting? Dental health isn’t a matter we can leave up to feeling. In fact, According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), 80 percent of domesticated dogs and 70 percent of cats have periodontal disease by three years of age, meaning dental care for pets is a must.

Periodontal disease is serious stuff. Not only does it make the owners’ kissing fears that much worse, it can also have serious adverse effects on cats’ and dogs’ bodily systems aside from the mouth. Caused by bacteria overgrowth, periodontal disease can ravage the gums and teeth and move on to the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and even the brain without proper attention.

February is National Pet Dental Health Month. That’s right, there’s a whole month devoted to that slobbering, meowing, licking, chomping, snarling, smiling orifice. And rightly so—dental health is an area of your patients’ or pets’ physiology that should never be ignored.

Of course, dental health is simpler to achieve with the help of a veterinarian, who can perform services like analytical radiographs and sealant procedures and recommend ingredients that are sure to keep tails wagging and kisses coming. Outside of the office, what are the best ways to keep pets’ free of periodontal disease?

Dental Care for Pets: The Clean They Need

We can start with examining our own habits. First, we eat. Then, we brush. What happens when Fido eats? He licks his lips and takes a nap, letting the lovely grime of doggy food seep into his teeth and gums for hours at a time. Brushing and flossing a dog’s or cat’s teeth is the first step to maintaining dental health and one of the most simple and important ways to ensure general wellbeing.

While home care is necessary, the American Animal Hospital Association has set out strict guidelines that detail what type of dental care for pets is necessary. The AAHA recommends annual (at least) veterinarian-performed oral examinations and dental cleanings, under general anesthesia. This guideline applies to all adult dogs and cats– starting at age one for cats and small-breed dogs, and at age two for large-breed dogs.

Expect a lot of questions this month about the bite and the bark, the meow and the lick. Perhaps suggest a bit of training on how to properly brush and floss pets’ teeth at home, or offer an in-office training featuring a seasoned Labrador flosser.

Your patients’ and pets’ teeth, tongue, cheeks, lips, stomach, liver, heart, and brain will thank you.

And so will your nose.