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  • Writer's pictureJulie Reisinger, RVT, LATg

February is National Pet Dental Health Month

Updated: Sep 11, 2021

Pet dental health is not something most pet owners think about on a regular basis, until a problem arises and veterinary intervention is necessary. However, just like with our own teeth, prevention is the key to your pet’s dental health! That’s why every February, the AVMA sponsors National Pet Dental Health Month, with resources to help improve the dental health of pets.

If your pet seems to be eating less or refuse to eat, it could be a sign of a dental problem

What Causes Dental Problems in Pets?

Dental problems in pets can be caused by many of the same things as in people - broken teeth/jaws, abscesses, misaligned teeth, cysts, tumors, palate defects, gingivitis - but one of the main causes is periodontal disease. Periodontal disease “is infection and inflammation of the periodontium (the tissues that surround and support the teeth) due to plaque bacteria and the host’s response to the bacterial insult,” and is classified in stages, with stage 1 being only mild gingivitis in an otherwise healthy mouth, and stage 4 being the most serious, with extensive veterinary treatment becoming necessary (click on this link to read more in depth about this disease and its stages).

When Does My Pet Need an Exam?

Ideally, your pet’s teeth and mouth should be examined at least once a year by a veterinary professional - this often happens during regular check-ups for vaccinations. In between these regular check-ups, you should take your pet to the vet if you notice any of the following: bad breath, loose or broken teeth, retained baby teeth or extra teeth, abnormal chewing/dropping food from the mouth, pain or swelling in or around the mouth, bleeding from the mouth, or reduced appetite/refusal to eat. These signs can be indicative of a much larger health issue and should be brought to your vet’s attention.

Most dogs, and even cats, can be trained to tolerate their teeth being cleaned

What Happens During a Dental Procedure?

During your routine check-up, your vet will evaluate your pet’s gums, teeth, and oral cavity for any gingivitis, plaque/tartar buildup, broken/missing teeth, and will look for any lesions, lumps, or swelling in the mouth. Because many problems exist below the gum line, your vet may recommend a dental cleaning and x-rays. Your pet will be anesthetized during this procedure, as it can be very stressful, uncomfortable, or even painful. During the cleaning, along with removing plaque and tartar buildup from each tooth and under the gums, your vet will also remove or repair broken or damaged teeth, chart your pet’s teeth to be able to monitor oral health over time, and polish the enamel to prevent hiding places for bacteria.

Does My Pet HAVE to be Anesthetized for Dental Cleanings?

When you go to the dentist, you understand that it may be uncomfortable, but necessary for your health. Your pet, on the other hand, does not understand this concept. For x-rays, a proper evaluation of your pet’s mouth and teeth, and a thorough cleaning, they have to remain perfectly still, something not even the most obedient pet could accomplish. Furthermore, while anesthesia-free cleanings have become popular in many metro areas, the AVMA and most veterinarians do not recommend it. Here’s an article by Dr. Patty Khuly that perfectly sums up a vet’s thoughts on this procedure. The American Veterinary Dental College has also created an entire website for pet owners to find the facts about anesthesia-free cleanings, as well as information on the benefits of regular dental exams and cleanings.

Your veterinarian is an integral part of your pet's dental care!

For more information about why dental health is so important, what is involved with dental exams and cleanings, and what you can do at home to help your pets, check out the resources at VetStreet and AVMA. And don’t forget to schedule an exam with your local veterinarian!

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