Keys to oral health

February is traditionally recognized as dental health month in veterinary clinics. In honour of this, we have put together some thoughts on the importance of caring for your dog’s teeth.  Just as proper nutrition and exercise are important, oral care should be part of our routine with our pets. Remember that prevention and early detection of tooth, gum and oral disease will reduce problems in the long run for your furry friend.

So, what can you do to keep your pet’s teeth healthy?

The first step is to have your pet’s teeth examined by your veterinarian at least once per year during their yearly physical, or if you ever have a concern about odour from the mouth or changes in the way that your pet is eating. A physical exam by our veterinarians will always include a check for bad breath, build-up of tartar, signs of gum disease and other dental problems.

The next big step is to try to brush your pet’s teeth on a daily basis (or at least several times per week). Brushing is the best way to remove plaque, which is the thin layer of bacteria that hardens into tartar and can lead to gum disease.

Tooth brushing can be fun! The key to successful brushing is to start things off slowly, be gentle and to use positive reinforcement…lots of love and treats afterwards! Start by purchasing a special pet toothbrush and toothpaste (no fluoride), and introduce the feel and taste of the toothpaste by placing some on your fingers and gently rubbing them in your pet’s mouth. The goal is to work up to proper brushing with a small toothbrush. You can use brushes specifically marketed for pets, or a pediatric brush designed for an infant’s mouth.

To augment tooth brushing, you can give your pet specific diets or dental chews and treats if appropriate. These help the teeth and the treats for dogs can add some fun to a pet’s day. Our recommendation is to look for dental foods and treats approved by the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council at www.vohc.org). The line of veterinary prescription oral care diets are superior to those found in pet stores, with the goal of mechanical brushing through chewing and/or the use of enzyme coatings which help to control oral bacteria.

One of our new favourite products for oral health is Healthy Mouth (www.healthymouth.com) which is the first water additive found to help with oral bacterial buildup and prevention of plaque. If you would like to try this for your dog or cat, please give us a call. Our vets have been pleased with the results from Healthy Mouth in the mouths of their own pets and patients.  

Things to remember:

80% of cats and dogs over the age of 3 have some form of dental disease.

Good oral health is one important thing that will help your pet live longer and more comfortably.

Dental disease has been implicated in infections throughout the body, with the potential to affect the liver, kidneys and even the heart.

If all of this is not enough motivation, a 2013 analysis conducted by VPI Pet Insurance that shows that the average cost to prevent dental disease in pets is $171.82, but it costs $531.71 on average to treat a dental problem once it occurs (U.S. numbers). The increased cost is due to anesthesia to examine the mouth, the need for extraction of affected teeth and medications to treat pain and infections.

We would love all of our clients to pledge to change one thing about the way that they care for their pet’s teeth in February… brushing would be best, but your pet will thank you for other things too. Please call us if you would like to discuss your own situation.