Smiling Dog with nice teeth. Photo by VoisineN via CC license http://www.flickr.com/photos/nick_voisine/4814238088/sizes/m/In this article I would like to address the very common problem of dental disease in pets. Some form of dental disease is present in over 80 percent of my patients. It ranges from mild gingivitis to severe periodontal disease.

Dental disease is a leading cause of illness in dogs and cats either directly by causing pain or indirectly by providing a constant source of bacterial infection to the body. Infection resulting from the bacteria that gains entrance to the bloodstream is directly responsible for some types of heart and kidney disease. We all know how painful a toothache can be; imagine having disease around almost all of your teeth.

Preventing dental disease means more than just throwing the dog a bone now and then. I am amazed how well animals do by themselves considering that most don’t receive any type of routine prophylactic care from their owners. The first step is to have your pet examined by your veterinarian. An assessment of your pet’s oral health can be made, and proper prophylaxis or treatment can be prescribed. Once you pet’s mouth is healthy, you can do many things to keep it that way between follow-up visits. Simply brushing the teeth is a simple procedure that you can do at home. It is important to use toothpaste designed for your pet. Pet toothpaste should be used because it can be swallowed; it usually contains enzymes that will break down the adhesion between plaque and the tooth’s surface in areas that you can’t reach with a brush-and it tastes good. There area many tooth brushes available. I find that the finger-tip brushes are well tolerated. It is important not to be too aggressive at first. You might start by allowing your pet to taste the toothpaste for a few days. Then, start brushing as frequently as your pet will tolerate. Try to do it daily, but if your pet will only tolerate once weekly brushing, this is certainly better than nothing. You can also encourage your pet to use toys designed to clean the teeth while the pet chews. These toys should be durable, provide some mild abrasive action, and be easily cleaned and disinfected. There are also dental biscuits available that can help prevent tarter build-up and these can be given as treats after brushing as a treat for good behavior. For many reasons including prevention of dental disease, do not feed your pet table scraps. If you must feed your pet something from the table, toss them a tarter fighting biscuit instead.

Finally, your pet should have their teeth professionally cleaned annually. It is critical to remove tarter from under the gum line and to probe for pockets that may have formed between the tooth and the gum. The teeth also need to be polished after the cleaning. Do not allow groomers or other non-trained people to scrape the tarter off of the surface of your pet’s teeth. This practice does nothing for the tarter under the gum line which is where the disease is occurring. Also, scaling teeth without polishing them causes micro-etching of the enamel which causes plaque and tarter to accumulate faster.

I feel that treating and preventing dental disease is every bit as important as routine vaccinations. I realize that cleaning your pet’s teeth is expensive; however, this care is vital to preserving your pet’s quality of life. It is important to remember that once dental disease progresses beyond a certain point it can be irreversible, resulting in costly extractions and unnecessary illness.