Brushing up on pet dental health

First Posted: 3/4/2015

Pet Dental Health Month has drawn to a close. I take exception with this annual awareness campaign because I worry that pet owners may only focus on their pet’s dental care during the month of February. In reality, pets need dental care daily, and definitely all year round.

Professional pet dental cleanings are done via ultrasonic scaling with pets under general anesthesia. We know plaque and tartar will begin to return to pet teeth as quickly as the cleaning and polishing have been completed. Therefore, all pet dental cleanings need to be followed by educating pet owners on long-term preventive dental care.

When I teach pet owners about dental health, my discussion is centered on how to physically approach the mouth. This information needs to be relayed as early as the pet’s first visit. For frustrated owners of older pets that resist dental care efforts, I first listen to what the pet owner has tried, then I make individualized suggestions to set them up for success. With the knowledge that daily tooth brushing or wiping is most effective, this process needs to be laced with a lot of praise and positive reinforcement for the pet to permit repetitive care as recommended.

Flavored pet pastes can turn dental care into a highly anticipated food treat experience. Such is the case for my own canine family as each dog lines up after dinner to have a turn at tooth brushing while lying on a comfy pet bed. Each pet is allowed to lick any remaining paste off the toothbrush when the cleaning is done. While brushing, I talk to my pets with soothing, happy tones, using all of their “magic words” employed during training when they were young. Pets, especially dogs, want to please you! Let them know that they are, through kind words and a gentle touch during tooth brushing.

Pets also thrive on consistency. Routines give them a sense of security, making them more willing participants when it comes to dental care. Daily tooth brushing at the same time of day in the same location while employing plenty of verbal, physical and edible encouragement, will make the pet more accepting.

I also recommend offering healthy dental treats (MilkBone or Greenies), hard rubber chew toys (Kongs), tartar control diets (Hill’s Science Diet Oral Care or Prescription Diet T/D), water additives (Breathalyser), and enzymatic dental sprays. Avoid soft or canned foods and hard chew toys such as Nylabones, deer antlers, knucklebones, and rawhides that are notorious for breaking teeth. My advice and the advice of veterinary dental specialists is to employ as many of these options as possible for greatest success.

Veterinary professionals perform multiple dental cleanings daily, making this procedure among our most popular. However, studies have shown that a pet owner will receive a minimum of three recommendations for a dental cleaning before acting on this important advice. Meanwhile, many pets suffer quietly with not one, but several, painful and/or infected teeth.

Amazingly, even in the face of their pet’s “dragon breath,” pet owners still overlook their pet’s dental hygiene. The common denominator in these situations is that the pet has shown no “obvious” signs of pain. Please be advised that many pets do not show their discomfort overtly, especially cats, as they are masters of disguise, and “weakness” in the animal world makes you “prey.”

Probably the best indicator of dental discomfort comes too late. And by that, I mean AFTER a professional dental cleaning when the pet is “re-born” by the elimination of painful gingivitis and abscessed teeth. Previously sedentary pets will become more interactive and act rejuvenated. It breaks my heart that so many pets endure unnecessary oral pain for too long. If you have ever had a single tooth ache, you know what I mean, then consider the plight of pets with multiple diseased teeth!

Help your veterinarian provide your pet with the best dental care possible. Perform daily oral exams and dental care for your pet. If your veterinarian recommends a professional dental cleaning, heed her advice expediently! Not only will your pet reward you with fresher breath, the added bonus will be a longer life through prevention of potentially life-threatening heart, kidney or liver disease originating from something as preventable as dental disease.

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