To celebrate National Pet Dental Health Month, we’ve asked our resident veterinarian, Dr. Katy Nelson, to answer some of your top dental-related questions.
Does my pet need to eat kibble to keep their teeth clean?
There is a common misconception that pets require kibble type food to keep their teeth clean. For years, the pet food industry has touted the “mechanical” benefit of crunching food as a way to ward off tartar; however this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Think of it in terms of human food – even if you ate hard, crunchy snacks all day long, at the end of the day you would still need to brush your teeth, right? Of course, the answer is yes!
There are far more benefits in eating a balanced, fresh, healthy food, including:
- Natural decreases in inflammation throughout the body by encouraging a lower body condition
- Lean muscle mass
- Adequate vitamins and minerals
- Essential fatty acids that naturally discourage inflammation
is a great option, as it offers real, fresh pet food packed with US farm-raised meats and fresh fruits and veggies.
My pet always has bad breath – why is that and what can I do to help it?
Bad breath is the telltale sign of dental disease. This is because plaque that builds up over time hardens and turns into tartar. The bacteria that lives in plaque and tartar causes inflammation of the gums, halitosis and can lead to infection.
To help bad breath, you have to start with a clean “plate.” This means scheduling an appointment with your vet so they can assess your pet’s teeth and see if a professional cleaning is needed. Unfortunately, heavy tartar and gingivitis can be virtually impossible to remove simply by brushing. If a professional cleaning is required, have that done by your veterinarian and talk with her about what to do to keep your pet’s teeth clean and breath fresh going forward. The Veterinary Oral Health Council recommends daily brushing, however if this can’t be done, then brushing at least 3 times a week can ward off tartar buildup over time.
Is it true that I should be brushing my pet’s teeth?
The best thing you can possibly do for your dogs and cats is to brush their teeth. It may take some time to get them accustomed to it, especially if they are older, but it is worthwhile for their long-term health.
To ease your pet into this new routine, start by getting them used to the flavor of the toothpaste. Always use a veterinary formulated toothpaste, as these are non-fluoridated and come in pleasing flavors for dogs and cats, such as chicken, bacon or salmon. Once they’re more comfortable, start brushing their teeth for a few seconds at a time, a couple of times a day. Eventually you can work your way up to 60-second daily brushings. Just like with human teeth, brushing is truly the only way to prevent tartar buildup on teeth.
Some of my pet’s teeth have a brownish/yellow tint - is that bad?
There are two main reasons for discoloration of your pet’s teeth: tartar buildup or the tooth is infected or dying. Either way, it’s important that the tooth is evaluated by your veterinarian – and be prepared for x-rays or even extractions.
Should my pet get regular dental cleanings by a vet?
Most pets over the age of 3 years old have some degree of dental disease, so annual dental exams are a must – especially knowing that genetics play a key part in dental health and some pets are more prone to dental disease than others. For example, small breed dogs and pets with brachycephalic faces are more likely to develop dental disease earlier than other pets. Having the teeth cleaned professionally on a regular basis is important for future health, just like it is in people.
What can happen if my pet’s teeth aren’t cleaned?
Without regular dental exams and professional cleanings, problems that could’ve been caught early and treated can turn into much larger issues. A small fissure over a tooth could turn into a painful abscess that requires hospitalization, antibiotics, and inevitably removal of the tooth. A small chip could turn into a fracture over time and could lead to pain, decreased appetite, and, inevitably, the removal of the tooth. It’s much easier to do regular exams and cleanings than to deal with a painful and costly dental emergency.
My pet lost a tooth the other day. Is there anything I need to do?
If your pet loses a tooth, it’s important to have them examined by your veterinarian. If the root is decayed or if the tooth is fractured and the root remains, your veterinarian may want to do a radiograph to determine the health of the surrounding teeth and underlying bone.
My vet said that my pet will need to be put under anesthesia for the cleaning and may need to have some teeth pulled – is this normal?
It is not safe or practical to expect a pet to lie still for open mouth radiographs, ultrasonic scaling of the teeth and gum line, and rotary polishing, which is why anesthesia is required. Plus, if the radiographs reveal that some of the roots or teeth are compromised and should be pulled, that can be painful. Anesthesia allows both the veterinarian and the pet a stress-free experience, and allows a much more thorough cleaning, evaluation and assessment process.
“Anesthesia free dentals” have been advertised, but studies have shown that these do much more harm than good. Not only is it incredibly stressful for a pet to have to be restrained with their mouth open for a long period of time, with metal instruments being used to poke, prod, and scrape, but this also does not allow for thorough cleaning underneath the gum line where the most insidious bacteria lie or a thorough polishing leaving the tooth more grooved and porous than prior to the dental, therefore more likely to collect tartar in the future.
Are there certain chew toys that are better or worse for your dog’s teeth?
Chewing has long been touted as good for pets’ teeth, however, most of the time a pet is simply chewing to release pent up energy. If we change our perception of why pets chew, it often times allows us better judgment as to what they should be chewing on. Chew toys that are extremely hard and potentially fracture a tooth are, quite simply, dangerous. If your pet is a “chewer” allow them to chew on products that have some give to them. If you’re looking for something to help with bad breath while you’re waiting for your dental appointment, consider a minty treat. That may help with the immediate issue while you’re waiting to take care of the underlying problem.
Still have questions that we didn't cover? Schedule an appointment with your vet! As your vet sees your pet on a regular basis, they are the best person to answer any specific questions you have about your pet’s dental health.