It is not just what a pet puts inside his or her mouth that can make a difference in comfort and health, but the way pet owners take care of pets’ teeth, gums and more. Oral hygiene, this oft-overlooked component of pet care, can mean the difference between a happy, healthy pet and one that may be suffering in silence.
The American Veterinary Dental College says brushing an animal’s teeth is the single most effective means to maintain oral health between professional vet examinations. Bacteria that forms naturally in an animal’s mouth will contribute to the formation of plaque which, left untreated, can lead to periodontal disease. By brushing away the precursors to plaque, pet owners can achieve optimal dental health for their pets.
Oral hygiene doesn’t begin and end with regular brushing. The American Veterinary Medical Association also suggests pet lovers work with a veterinary dentist to evaluate the health of teeth, the jaws and the roots below the gum line. These professionals are invested in all aspects of oral healthcare and can be called on for routine cleaning, filing, extraction, or tooth repairs if need be.
The AVMA says that periodontal disease is the most common dental condition in dogs and cats, and by the time the animal reaches three years of age, it may have some early evidence of periodontal disease, which can only worsen if preventative measures are not taken.
Pet dental problems are similar to those that occur in people. While dental caries (cavities) are less likely, abscesses, infections, broken teeth, and palate defects can occur. Signs of potential oral problems include bad breath, abnormal chewing, disinterest in eating, swelling in the gums, tenderness when the mouth is touched, or bleeding. Pets may become irritable if their mouths are bothering them, so if behavior changes are observed, dogs or cats should be seen by a veterinarian to find out if a dental issue is at the root of the problem.
Some pet owners are reticent to handle oral healthcare for their companion animals because they fear the pet may bite if uncomfortable. Although this is always a possibility, dogs and cats can grow accustomed to teeth being brushed or wiped with patience, says AVDC. Oral rinses and special chews also can reduce plaque formation.