Did you know that most pets older than 3 years of age have some degree of dental disease? Dental disease is one of the most common medical conditions seen by veterinarians and can cause major health problems beyond affecting your pet’s teeth. February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and our team at Homestead Animal Hospital is here to help your brush up on your pet dental health awareness. 

What is dental disease in pets?

This progressive disease is caused by oral bacteria that damage your pet’s gums, teeth, and supportive tooth structures. Soon after your pet eats, sticky plaque forms on their teeth and quickly hardens into cement-like tartar, trapping bacteria in and around the gumline and tooth roots. Dental disease can cause problems that extend beyond your pet’s teeth, including:

  • Kidney, heart, and liver damage — Bacteria from plaque and tartar buildup can leak into your pet’s bloodstream, damaging these essential organs. 
  • Tooth root infections — These infections occur most commonly in the large, three-rooted carnassial teeth on the upper jaw. 
  • 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.

Is it normal for my pet to have bad breath?

Bacteria and food debris build up over time in your pet’s mouth, creating plaque and a persistent smell. While it’s normal for your pet’s breath to have some odor, a strong foul smell that continues to worsen can indicate dental health issues. Bad breath is often an early sign of dental disease, along with:

  • Brown or yellow tartar buildup on the teeth
  • Red, swollen gums
  • Broken or loose teeth
  • Decreased appetite
  • Swallowing food whole, instead of chewing
  • Blood in your pet’s water bowl or on their toys
  • Shying away from being touched near their face
  • Change in temperament

Are some pets more prone to dental disease?

All pets can—and likely will—develop dental disease, but some breeds have a higher risk. 

Small-breed pets and brachycephalic pets are more susceptible to dental disease because of the anatomy of their mouths, heads, and faces. 

Will I know if my pet is in dental pain?

Our pets can’t tell us when they are in pain, and it can be difficult to know if they are suffering. Periodontal inflammation and infection eventually lead to ligament breakdown, and the affected tooth roots become infected and loose, causing significant pain for your pet. The pain will progress from mild to severe, and in the early stages, you may not notice your pet’s discomfort. The following behaviors may indicate your pet is experiencing dental-related pain:

  • Chewing on one side of the mouth
  • Taking food from their bowl and eating it somewhere else
  • Leaving broken crumbs around their bowl after eating
  • Swallowing food whole
  • Avoiding being petted near their head

How can I protect my pet from dental disease?

Prevention is key when it comes to protecting your pet from dental disease. Regular toothbrushing is the best way to keep their teeth healthy. Daily brushing is preferred, but at least try to do it a few times a week.  Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Choose a pet-friendly toothbrush — When brushing your pet’s teeth, use a small child’s toothbrush or a finger brush
  • Don’t share toothpaste — Avoid using human toothpaste, which contains fluoride that is unsafe for pets if swallowed. Instead, opt for veterinary-approved, flavored toothpaste. 
  • Start slowly — First, let your pet lick the flavored toothpaste from your finger. Next, put some toothpaste on your finger and rub it over your pet’s tooth surfaces. Finally, repeat with the toothbrush, focusing on the outer surfaces only—your pet’s tongue will take care of the inner surfaces.
  • End with praise — Positively reinforce teethbrushing by following it up with praise and a special treat. 

In addition to being brushed regularly, your pet’s teeth and gums also should be examined by their veterinarian annually to look for early signs of dental disease. A professional cleaning may be recommended, along with dental X-rays that can reveal problems under the gumline.

Dental health is an important part of your pet’s overall wellbeing, and it’s easy to protect them from oral health problems with an at-home care routine and regular dental exams. Contact our team at Homestead Animal Hospital to schedule your pet’s next dental appointment.