By Elva Ma, DVM

February is National Pet Dental Heath Month, so I would like to take this opportunity to write about the importance of dental health in our pets.

While we may see our pet’s bad breath as only an annoyance, it can indicate a serious health concern, such as infection and pain, and may eventually lead to damage of the major organs, including the liver or heart. Some studies suggest that maintaining oral health can add up to 5 years to a pet’s life!

Warning signs of dental disease include:

  • Bad breath
  • Red and swollen gums
  • Brown or yellow crusts on the teeth
  • Bleeding of the gums
  • Pain when eating or when the mouth is touched
  • In some pets, the only symptom visible to the owner may be a decrease in appetite or energy

There are several things that we as pet parents can do to prevent and reduce dental disease:

  1. Brush the teeth daily. For many pet owners, this can be a challenge. The AVMA has a wonderful video online demonstrating step by step how to get a pet to accept daily teeth brushing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wB3GIAgrTPE.
  2. Dental diets. Look for ones certified by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (www.vohc.org), such as Purina DH, Royal Canin Dental, or Hill’s T/D. These diets have gone through clinical trials to prove efficacy against plaque and tarter buildup.
  3. Dental treats. There are also some treats and chews certified by the VOHC. When choosing a dental chew for dogs, I would recommend the “pinch test” before offering to your pet: if you can make an indent in the treat’s surface with your fingernail, then it is safe enough for your pet’s teeth. Anything harder may cause microfractures and wearing of the crown, eventually leading to a serious tooth fracture. Also make sure to take away a chewing treat when it gets to the size that it could be swallowed and cause a possible obstruction in the intestines.
  4. Yearly examinations with your veterinarian, to thoroughly assess the degree of dental disease, and discuss options for further prevention and/or treatment.

Eventually, your pet may end up needing a thorough dental cleaning under anesthesia. We will start by making sure your pet is a safe candidate for general anesthesia by performing a thorough physical exam and checking blood work to assess the health of the major organs. On the day of the dental procedure, our registered veterinary technician (RVT) will use instruments to scale and polish your pet’s teeth while they are sleeping, removing tartar and plaque that could otherwise lead to dental problems. In case of loose teeth, fractured teeth, gum attachment loss, or tooth root abscesses, tooth extraction may be required. If so, healing time is usually 10-14 days. It is amazing to see how much better pets feel after their problematic teeth are taken care of – I often hear parents saying their pets are acting like puppies or kittens again!

Before and after photos from a dental procedure in one of our patients – squeaky clean!

While February is considered the official Pet Dental Month, our clinic offers monetary incentives year-round for any pet that requires dental work, including:

  • A $50 discount if a pet’s dental procedure is booked within 50 days of the recommendation.
  • Complimentary dental assessments performed by our highly skilled and knowledgeable RVT’s for any pet registered with our clinic.

Please give us a shout if you’d like to take advantage of these services! And if you have any questions about your pet’s dental health, we are only a phone call, text or email away!