by Dr. Rebecca Wood published February 11, 2016

When vets ask “Do you brush your pet’s teeth?”, most owners laugh. Though veterinarians are notoriously hilarious people, this is not meant to be a joke. Dental health, in all of its forms, is very important to the health and longevity of your pet. Tending to their pearly whites not only helps them look dashing, but it can help them continue a long, healthy life.

Things to do at home:
Pet dental care starts at home. The most important aspect of this is brushing your cat’s or dog’s teeth. Most veterinarians will recommend daily brushing, but if this seems like too much, start with a weekly routine. Then after that doesn’t seem so bad, add another day, and so on. To brush your pet’s teeth, there are a number of tools at your disposal. The easiest way is start with a wet gauze on your hand or just your finger, to get your pet used to the feeling. Once this doesn’t seem so bad, you can move up to a toothbrush. There are pet toothbrushes, which are smaller or can fit over your finger, or if you have a bigger dog, you can just use a soft bristle human tooth brush (just remember which one is for you and which one is for Fido!). The physical stimulation and removal of surface plaque is the main benefit of tooth brushing and can be achieved with the brush and water. For added benefit, there are a number of pet-friendly toothpastes which have pet friendly flavors (like chicken or vanilla mint), are safe for them to swallow and have enzymes which help break down plaque.
If your pet is not the type to allow at-home brushing, there are other veterinary products which can help keep their mouth’s a little cleaner without risking your fingers. As for chew toys or bones, the rule of thumb, is you want to be able to indent the toy with your fingernail. If it’s too hard to indent, it’s so hard it will wear down your pet’s teeth.

Time to call the vet:
Even with the best at home dental care, sometimes dental problems still happen, and then it’s time to call the vet. Remember, we need to go to the dentist several times a year even though we brush our teeth twice every day! Aside from routine checkups, here are some signs your pet’s dental situation may need veterinary attention:
– bad breath
– broken, discolored, or missing teeth
– retained baby teeth
– excessive drooling or pawing at the mouth
– blood coming from the mouth
– abnormal chewing or dropping of food
– decreased appetite or sudden shying away from hard food
– pain or swelling around the mouth

Veterinary dental cleaning:
If a veterinary cleaning is required, that means your pet gets to spend the day with us at the hospital! This is because, unlikely people who are willing to open their mouth and can spit when the dentist asks, pets need anesthesia for a thorough dental cleaning. This is for several reasons. The main reason is for your pet’s health and safety. By being under anesthesia, we can make sure your pet is dreaming of cookies instead of feeling any pain. Also, we can make sure they are not swallowing any water or toothpaste because we can protect their airway while they’re under anesthesia. Also, while they’re under anesthesia, the vet can get a complete look at every angle of the teeth and take dental x-rays if needed. This allows us to make the best medical decisions for your pet and make sure those teeth get sparkly clean. And lastly, if the cleaning requires more than just a cleaning, it allows us to address any problem areas while your pet is already under anesthesia. As with any surgery, we make sure your pet is monitored throughout the entire procedure to keep them as safe as possible.
So remember, owners and veterinarians are in a partnership when it comes to keeping your pet’s mouth clean and healthy. With good dental care, your pet can live a longer, happier life. Now that’s something to smile about!

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