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Dental care on a regular basis is required to ensure your pet’s dental health. Foul breath is the most common sign of dental disease, but there are others: yellowish brown tartar on teeth at gum line; red, swollen and bleeding gums; drooling; loss of appetite. Collectively, these symptoms result in periodontal disease. This disease is painful and can result in abscesses, loose teeth, bone loss and infection. The bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause infection of the heart, liver and kidneys. You should examine your pet’s mouth at home. If any of the above signs are observed, your pet should be examined by a veterinarian.

Daily home care, including brushing and mechanical removal of plaque and tartar, will greatly benefit your pet’s health. After a professional dental cleaning, brushing your pet’s teeth daily can help prevent periodontal disease. Soft children’s toothbrushes or brushes designed for pets can be used effectively. Doggie toothpaste or baking soda and water must be used. Human formulations can upset your pet’s gastro-intestinal system. Removal of plaque and tartar by means of treats, bones, rawhides or chew toys is not very effective, but it helps. There are, however, some products that are proven to be more beneficial than others. I recommend Greenies Edible Dog Treats, Prescription Diet Canine t/d and Science Diet Oral Care Diet. Plaque Attacker dental toys and rope toys have also been proven to be effective.

Dental care is often ignored in pets. Consequences?? How would your teeth and gums feel after months, years or a lifetime of neglect?

Because this is a question/answer column, I have included The Top Five. The following are the five most frequently asked questions I have received in almost 13 years of veterinary practice.

  1. Can dogs get cavities?  Yes, but rarely. Pet's diets rarely contain decay-causing sugars. So, avoid sugary treats.
  2. Do pets naturally have bad breath? No. Several serious diseases can cause bad breath but periodontal disease and infection (plaque and tartar) are by far the most common.
  3. Why should I let a veterinarian clean my pet’s teeth? A dental cleaning performed by a veterinarian or a veterinary technician will remove plaque and tartar from above and below the gum line. This procedure returns your pet’s teeth to a clean healthy condition by removing bacteria that can cause periodontal disease.
  4. Should I feed my pet hard or soft food? Hard food is slightly more effective at reducing the amount of plaque accumulation on teeth. Some diets are more effective than others at reducing plaque and tartar. Consult your veterinarian to determine the appropriate diet. 

When should I begin dental care at home? 80% of dogs and 70% of cats are reported to have some form of periodontal disease by age 3. In other words, the sooner the better.