By Erica Radhakrishnan


February is national pet dental health month.  Some of the best ways to show your pet some love this month are to schedule a professional teeth cleaning with your primary veterinarian, learn how to brush your pet’s teeth, train them to accept teeth brushing, and brush their teeth at least three times per week.

Why is your pet’s oral health so important?  Bacterial toxins released into the mouth to the bloodstream from poor oral hygiene can lead to other serious health issues for your pet including certain heart, liver, kidney, and bone conditions over time.  Additionally, symptoms of poor oral health, like bad breath, may indicate a more significant underlying health condition like diabetes, kidney disease, respiratory infections, or an oral tumor. 

At a minimum, an annual oral examination of your pet’s teeth and gums is a valuable tool to help your pet live the healthiest life possible. 

Schedule an appointment to see your regular veterinarian if your pet experiences persistent bad breath, pawing at the mouth, drooling, loss of appetite or weight loss.

Sadly, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “80% of dogs and 70% of cats exhibit some form of periodontal disease by the age of 3.”  Therefore, good oral hygiene needs to begin at the earliest age possible.  In addition to annual oral checkups, regular teeth brushing may be necessary.   All breeds of cats are susceptible to periodontal disease.  However, some dog breeds are more prone to dental disease than others.  These include many small breeds like the dachshund, chihuahua, toy poodle, Yorkshire terrier, Maltese, Pomeranian and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  Speak to your primary veterinarian about your pet’s specific risk of periodontal disease, recommendations for prevention, and proper technique for brushing their teeth.  Most importantly, never use human toothpaste on your pet.

Even with regular teeth brushing, professional teeth cleaning may be necessary as most periodontal disease occurs below the gumline.  Veterinarians, therefore, additionally recommend oral x-rays to thoroughly evaluate your pet’s teeth and gum health.  Upon evaluation, your veterinarian will make recommendations as to the need and frequency of professional dental cleanings for your pet.  These procedures require anesthesia.  Therefore, bloodwork should be run to assess the overall health and general well-being of your pet.  Professional dental cleaning involves scaling - below the gumline cleaning and removal of plaque buildup - and teeth polishing.  These procedures clean areas inaccessible with regular tooth brushing.  If your pet requires additional dental care such as extractions, your veterinarian should notify you to seek approval and be able to do so while your pet is already under anesthesia.

Maintaining your pet’s oral hygiene will require extra effort and resources, but be an investment well worth making for a lifetime of unconditional love in return.