Linden Heights Animal Hospital

274 Linden Drive
Winchester, VA 22601


      Caring For Your Pets Teeth     

We all know how important good dental hygiene is for our own health, but many owners are unaware that this is true for their pets, too.  Dental disease is one of the most common preventable illnesses in pets, and it affects more than 75% of all dogs and cats over three years old.  Infections of the teeth and gums can cause pain, loose teeth and permanent damage to internal organs such as the kidneys and heart.  All of this can be avoided by practicing proper dental care techniques.

Dental Disease in Pets

The term dental disease includes a variety of ailments.  The most common of these is periodontitis.  Plaque, a soft mixture of bacteria, food, and saliva, accumulates on teeth, especially near the gum line.  The plaque hardens to become tartar.  The plaque and tartar irritate the tissues around the tooth and its root.  This starts out as gingivitis (reddened gums).  Infections and abscesses develop around the tooth, resulting in bad breath, bleeding, pain, and tooth loss.  Infected, bleeding gums allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body, damaging the kidneys and heart.

Mouth injuries such as broken teeth, are also common in dogs.  This is especially true of dogs that chew on hard objects such as rocks, cow or pig hooves, bones and fences.  Injured or bleeding teeth require immediate veterinary care.

Dental Examinations

Each time your cat or dog has a routine physical examination, your veterinarian will check his/her teeth and gums looking for buildup of plaque or tartar, gingivitis, bleeding, broken teeth, or oral tumors.  Your pet should receive a dental exam at least once or twice a year.  If you notice problems like breath odor, drooling or difficulty eating, you should bring your pet in for an examination right away.  The sooner that any dental disease is identified and treated, the less it will cost and the better the outcome.

Tooth Brushing

Teaching your cat or dog to accept daily dental care is surprisingly easy.  The key is to start slowly and make the experience pleasant.  Place a small amount of pet friendly toothpaste on your finger and allow him/her to lick it off.  Repeat, this time holding the mouth closed and stroking the outside surface of the teeth lightly.

Eventually, over a period of one to two weeks, you can substitute a piece of gauze, a finger toothbrush, or a child's small soft toothbrush instead of your finger.  Remember, you only need to clean the outside tooth surfaces, and this reduces the chances of an accidental bite.  The most important aspect of tooth brushing is the mechanical action, but toothpastes can add helpful ingredients like enzymes to help break down plaque and antiseptics that prevent bacterial growth.  These pastes are flavored to please your pet's palate, too.  Never use human toothpaste as the ingredients will irritate a dog or cat's mouth and are not designed to be swallowed.

Professional Care

Most pets require professional dental cleanings and periodontal care periodically.  This entails a general anesthetic to allow surfaces of each tooth to be carefully cleaned, even below the gum line.  Dental radiographs (x-rays) offer the capability of viewing abnormalities below the gums and inside the tooth.  The teeth will be polished to discouraged deposition of new plaque, and fluoride will be applied in the same manner your own dentist uses.  Professional cleaning is the only way to halt the progress of periodontal disease once tartar has formed.  Following this detailed professional cleaning you, the owner, have the power to not only substantially delay the recurrence of dental disease by employing consistent care at home but to enhance the length and quality of your beloved pet's life.