Dental Care Guidelines
10 things you need to know
Contrary to popular belief, “doggy breath” is not normal. If your pet’s bad breath keeps the two of you from snuggling or you wish you could give your pet a mint, it could be the first sign that he has dental disease, a painful condition caused by bacteria infecting his gums and teeth. What’s even worse, it can lead to serious health issues as infection spreads throughout the body.
Since maintaining oral hygiene is crucial to keeping cats and dogs healthy and happy, AAHA created dental care guidelines to help your veterinarian provide top-notch care. Here are the top 10 things you need to know about these guidelines:
1. Dental disease begins early in life. Cats can begin to develop dental disease as early as nine months old. By the time they’ve reached their third birthday, most cats begin showing signs of dental disease, such as bad breath, yellow tartar buildup on the teeth, and red, swollen gums. Left untreated, throbbing pain and inflammation can cause pets to drop food, drool excessively, paw at their mouths, or become reactive to petting. But, because most dogs and cats are experts at hiding pain, many suffer in silence.
2. Early detection is key. As a part of your pet’s annual veterinary checkup, we recommend dental evaluations at least once a year when your cat reaches one year old, or when your large breed dog turns two.
3. “X-ray vision” is essential for diagnosing dental disease. After examining dental radiographs (X-ray images) of cats and dogs with teeth that appeared normal to the naked eye, veterinarians found 27.8% of dogs and 41.7% of cats had diseased teeth. In pets with abnormal-looking teeth, veterinarians found additional diseased teeth in 50% of dogs and 53% of cats.
4. Anesthesia makes dental evaluation and treatment safer and less stressful for your pet. Animals don’t like to hold still while their teeth are cleaned. Anesthetized dental cleanings allow veterinarians to make a more accurate diagnosis and decrease the chance of complications, like inhaling water or bacteria produced during the cleaning.
5. Anesthesia is much safer than you think. Our protocols include steps to increase the safety of anesthesia, even in older pets. For example, one trained professional is dedicated to continuously monitoring, recording vital signs, and communicating the findings to the veterinarian. Before anesthesia, your pet will also be carefully screened with bloodwork and other tests to ensure he is free from underlying disease.
6. Removing plaque from teeth beneath the gums is vital. In fact, it’s even more important than scaling the portion of the teeth we can see. Bacteria thrive under the gumline, causing infections deep in the tooth root and jaw that can spread throughout the body and affect other organs, such as the heart or kidneys.
7. There are many similarities between human and veterinary dentistry. Licensed veterinarians and credentialed technicians use sharp, sterilized instruments, just like those you see in your dentist’s office. Board-certified veterinary dentists go through extensive residency training to perform advanced procedures like root canals, tooth extractions, and crowns. You might even feel the same sense of guilt when your veterinarian asks, “How often do you brush his teeth?” as when you’re asked, “How often do you floss?”
8. We will create a personalized pain protocol to keep your pet comfortable. Although your dog or cat will be anesthetized during a tooth extraction, numbing medications will decrease the amount of general anesthetic needed and can last up to eight hours after the procedure, allowing your pet to rest in comfort. Your veterinarian can tailor your pet’s prescription pain medication to match the procedure so he’ll recover peacefully at home.
9. Don’t forget to brush! Brushing your cat or dog’s teeth every day will promote good oral health and prevent potentially expensive surgeries down the line. It’s easier than you think: There are even special pet toothpastes flavored like beef, chicken, fish, and peanut butter. (Note: Never use human toothpaste, which can contain ingredients like xylitol that are toxic to animals.)
10. Consider using other dental products if brushing isn’t an option. Oral rinses, gels, sprays, water additives, and chews can help with your pet’s dental hygiene. Be sure to look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval on all pet dental products, and be wary of any dental chew that doesn’t bend or break easily as these can fracture teeth.