The photo displays a black lab with its lips being parted to show a toothy grin.

February is National Pet Dental Health Month! It’s not just your own teeth that need taking care of. Your pet’s dental hygiene is just as important.

Periodontal disease is preventable, yet it is the most commonly diagnosed clinical condition seen in cats and dogs.

Does your dog have bad breath? Can you see tartar buildup on their teeth? Is there bleeding from the mouth or gums? These are only a few of the signs that there might be a bigger issue. Pet dental conditions can have several root causes which can include broken teeth or roots, periodontal disease, abscesses, tumors and more. Ignoring these can result in the issues getting worse and can even potentially affect other organs. Preventative care and early treatment are easier to manage than trying to treat severe infections. The effects of advanced disease are not always reversible.

Your veterinarian will conduct a dental examination during your pet’s yearly checkup. It’s important to get them seen every year in order to prevent problems or address them early for the best possibility of early recovery. Regular brushing and dental chews are your best defense against tooth and gum disease for your beloved pet.

How to start

Dental health for your pets is important, but it’s hard to brush their teeth if you can’t get to them!

In the video below, Caroline demonstrates how to get your pet used to their face and mouth being handled. It is so important that they be comfortable with this in order to provide proper care, no matter if that’s dental care, eye care or anything else that needs attention around the face.

If your dog tends to be more aversive to face handling, take it slow and easy. Short sessions with simple touches are a great start, and work your way up to doing more as your pet becomes more comfortable with it. As always, make it fun – use treats, affection, and play as needed!


[The video shows Caroline petting and handling the face of a curious giant Schnauzer. She demonstrates how to open the mouth to be able to look inside.]

Prevention

The most effective preventative of dental disease is to regularly brush your pet’s teeth. Daily is best, but understandably, this is not always possible. Try your best! There are chews and treats that can be used alongside manual brushing, which will help clear plaque and debris off the teeth.

You want to use a soft bristle toothbrush that is meant for pets. These can be found at most pet stores and vet clinics. There are many kinds available, including bristle and silicone brushes. It might take some trial and error to find one that you and your pet feels comfortable with.

Don’t forget the toothpaste! Human toothpaste can be problematic due to the foaming agents and other additives. Get a pet specific toothpaste from a pet store or vet clinic. They come in many flavors such as chicken, salmon and vanilla mint. Finding your pet’s favorite flavor will help them enjoy their dental maintenance.

There are also specialized toys and chews meant specifically to help remove plaque from the teeth. Kong is a popular brand, but there are many others available. Robe tug toys can also help remove plaque, but make sure to supervise play. Many dogs like to shred these toys and eat the strings, which can result in impaction and blockage.

Be warned that while there are many dental tools and toys available, there are some that are not very effective. The best way to get the right tools is to talk to your veterinarian.

Preventing dental diseases is possible, and there are tools to help manage and maintain your pet’s dental hygiene. If you are just getting started with dental care, take it slowly and let your pet adjust to the new routine. Make it a positive and rewarding experience!

The AVMA has released a video explaining how to introduce your pet to teeth hygiene:

Types of Dental Disorders

There are a number of dental diseases that can arise in pet health, and the best way to manage them is by preventing them to begin with. Here are just a few issues to look out for.

Periodontal Disease

The most common ailment is periodontal disease, which is a disease of the tissue surrounding the teeth. More than two thirds of dogs over three years of age have been diagnosed with periodontal disease of some degree. Gingivitis precludes periodontitis, where the gums are inflamed. If left untreated, the inflammation can extend deeper into the root and causes bone deterioration of the teeth and/or jawbone. The tooth will decay, loosen and eventually fall out. While gingivitis can be prevented and reversed, damage to the bone structures is permanent. Things to watch out for include brown or yellow discoloration of the teeth, bad breath, bleeding or red gums, loose teeth, blood on chews or in their water bowl, and favoring one side of their mouth.
Photo and x-ray shows an example of periodontal disease in a dog.
“Periodontal disease apparent only in dental xray-Luce Mae” by mariposavet is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 – Only radiographs could identify the periodontal disease and bone loss affecting this dog’s teeth. We perform dental charting and did not find any pocketing or mobility associated with 105-107, yet all three needed to be extracted due to >50% bone loss affecting each.

Endodontic Disease

Endodontic disease is another ailment that can arise. Also known as pulpitis, it is caused by swelling of the tissue inside of the tooth. If this tissue does not survive, it can cause an infection as it decays. “Dead” teeth will often discolor and can be incredibly painful. If caught early, endodontic disease can often be reversed with veterinary treatment. However, for a large majority of cases, the tooth will likely be pulled. A root canal can also be performed. If tooth discoloration is seen, a vet visit will be needed. Symptoms of endodontic disease can include a black, gray, pink or purple discoloration of a tooth, excessive drooling, foul breath and a loss of appetite.

Broken Teeth

Dogs do so much with their teeth. Sometimes an unfortunate poor life choice, such as biting a rock or chewing too hard on a bone, can result in damage. Broken teeth take several forms, and all of them are problems. Broken enamel and teeth can cause severe sensitivity to heat, cold and pressure. Infections can also occur. If that infection develops and grows within the root canal it can cause stress to the dog’s immune system and the infection sometimes cannot be cleared, even with antibiotics. This infection can not only be extremely painful, but it can develop in other parts of the body. Broken teeth are usually treated by extraction or root canal. While broken teeth are sometimes easily noticeable, smaller fractures may not be. Signs of a fractured or broken tooth can include favoring one side while chewing, dropping food while eating, excessive drooling, pawing at the mouth, facial swelling, lymph node enlargement and refusal of hard food, such as kibble.
Photo shows a broken tooth.
“Cadu’s Rotten Tooth” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 – Our black lab Cadu’s yearly checkup turned up a serious situation with two of her back teeth (too many hard bones, says our Doc)… we were first warned at first she might need a root canal (which costs about as much as a truckload of concrete), but fortunately, they found no below the gum damage and were able to grind the broken edge smooth.

You can find more information about pet dental health from @avmavets. Check out the video they have posted to learn more: