February is National Pet Dental Health Month, which our team at Parker Center Animal Clinic thinks is the perfect time to educate yourself on this important—and often neglected—area of your pet’s health and wellbeing. We tackle five common myths about pet dental health and provide pet dental care tips that will help keep your pet’s teeth, mouth, and breath clean and disease-free. 

Pet Dental Health MYTH #1: Dental disease is uncommon in pets

TRUTH: Dental disease is one of the most common medical conditions seen by veterinarians. Disease is more frequent in small-breed dogs, but also frequently affects larger dogs and cats—70% of pets have some form of dental disease by age 3, most commonly caused by plaque and tartar accumulation. Bacteria in your pet’s mouth cause plaque to form on the surface of their teeth soon after eating and if not removed, the plaque hardens into tartar, trapping bacteria in and around the gum line. When your pet’s tooth roots are invaded, the result is painful periodontal disease, infection, gum inflammation (i.e., gingivitis), abscesses, loose teeth, and tooth loss. Without preventive care or treatment, dental disease can cause infection, and significant pain for your pet.

MYTH #2: Dental disease only affects a pet’s teeth

TRUTH: Periodontal disease doesn’t only affect your pet’s mouth. If left untreated, permanent damage can occur if oral bacteria spread through the bloodstream. The more severe the dental disease and the more inflammation present, the more likely bacteria will enter the bloodstream and travel to other body parts, including the kidneys, liver, and heart. Dental disease can also cause:

  • Heart disease — The heart and liver are especially prone to developing inflammation from dental disease.
  • Diabetes complications — Diabetic pets tend to have higher periodontal disease levels, and the two conditions feed on each other. Severe periodontal disease can increase the severity of a pet’s diabetes, which then worsens the periodontal disease.
  • Under-eye swelling — Tooth root abscesses can cause a pus-filled swelling below the eye that may be confused with an eye or facial problem. 

Myth #3: Dental disease signs are easy to identify in pets

TRUTH: Dental disease is extremely painful, but most pets hide their discomfort until the disease has progressed and the pain becomes severe. Bad breath is often the first sign of trouble, although many pet owners assume bad breath is normal in pets. In addition to bad breath, the following signs may indicate dental problems:

  • Brown or yellow tartar buildup on the teeth
  • Red, swollen gums
  • Broken or loose teeth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Decreased appetite
  • Swallowing food whole, instead of chewing
  • Crumbs around their bowl after eating
  • Taking food from their bowl to eat elsewhere
  • Blood in their water bowl or on toys
  • Shying away from being touched near their face

Early detection is key, so If you recognize these signs in your pet, you should schedule a dental evaluation with our team to assess their dental health, and address any problems as soon as possible.

MYTH #4: Pets don’t need their teeth brushed

TRUTH: Periodontal disease can be prevented with daily toothbrushing, which can help remove plaque from your pet’s teeth before it hardens. These tips can help you brush your pet’s teeth effectively:

  • Choose a small child’s toothbrush or finger brush, and veterinary-approved, flavored pet toothpaste. Avoid human toothpaste, which contains fluoride that is toxic for pets, if swallowed.
  • Let your pet lick the flavored toothpaste from your finger, and follow up with a treat.
  • Rub your finger over your pet’s tooth surfaces, and then repeat with the toothbrush. Focus on the outer surfaces only—your pet’s tongue will take care of the inner surfaces.
  • Positively reinforce teethbrushing with praise, a special treat, or a fun activity for your pet.

In addition, your veterinarian can recommend effective dental products, treats, and diets to supplement your pet’s teethbrushing routine.

MYTH #5: At-home dental care is sufficient for pets

TRUTH: Your pet’s teeth need caring for the same way you care for your own teeth, with at-home care and professional cleanings. Your pet’s teeth and gums should be examined by their veterinarian at least annually, depending on their breed, size, and lifestyle, to detect and treat dental disease signs in the early stages. A professional cleaning likely will include dental X-rays to look for problems under the 60% of the gum line that cannot be seen with the naked eye. 

Consistent, combined at-home dental care and regular professional dental cleanings are the best way to keep your pet pain- and dental disease-free. Contact our team at Parker Center Animal Clinic to schedule your pet’s dental evaluation or cleaning.