You might think your dog or cat’s foul breath is natural – but it’s really a sign that all is not well in your furry friend’s mouth.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), 80% of dogs and 70% of cats are showing the early warning signs of impending oral health issues by the age of three. More than 85 percent of cats and dogs over four years old are affected by periodontal disease.
Inflamed gums, dental plaque buildup and decay impacts the animal’s quality of life, disposition and overall health. Oral health infections can lead to systematic infections that affect your pet’s lungs, digestive system and heart. Some studies have indicated that good oral health can add up to five years to your pet’s life.
February is National Pet Dental Health Month. If your pet hasn’t had a dental checkup recently, this is a good month to get it done. Your veterinarian may even be offering a discount on dental care in February.
Warning Signs of Dental Problems
If you notice any of these symptoms or behaviors, bring your pet to the vet for a dental checkup:
- Bad breath
- Red/ swollen gums
- Yellow-brown discoloration ( tartar) along the gum lines
- Bleeding or pain when chewing or when gums/mouth are touched
- Excessive drooling
- Dropping food from mouth
- Weight loss
- Frequent pawing at face/mouth
- Avoidance of crunchy foods and hard chew toys
Checkups and Daily Dental Care
Your veterinarian may suggest that your pet have a dental checkup and professional teeth cleaning once or twice a year. Your vet may perform the cleaning, or may refer you to a specialist. Be aware that general anesthesia may be recommended to help your pet (and the vet) get through the process easily and peacefully.
During the checkup and cleaning your vet will remove tartar and plaque buildup that can lead to decay and gum disease. He or she will check to see if your pet has cavities, cracked, broken, loose or infected teeth.
Good dental health should be a regular part of your pet’s hygiene routine. Ask your vet how to care for your pet’s teeth at home. He or she may have special recommendations based on your pet’s individual health, diet, age and personality.
Your vet may recommend brushing your pet’s teeth daily with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Brushing alone should be enough to remove food debris, but if you want to use toothpaste choose one that is formulated specifically for pet use. Be aware that it could take several weeks to train your pet to understand that tooth brushing is neither a game nor an annoyance. Be patient. For more tips on how to brush your pet’s teeth, you can view this video.
Good nutrition is also key to good dental health. Ask your vet about your pet’s diet, and whether you should provide crunchy treats to assist in keeping your pet’s teeth clean and strong. You may wish to check treats and toys for the Seal of Acceptance from the Veterinary Oral Health Council. Remember that really tough chew toys and games that involve an animal pulling on an object with his or her teeth can also cause damage.
If your pet has a dental problem, your dentist may recommend root canals, crowns … even braces. These treatments are unlikely to be aimed at giving your pet a more attractive smile, though – veterinary dentistry is typically concerned with functionality and health.
Braces, for example, are typically used to allow a pet to chew normally and/or relieve the pain that can be caused by misaligned teeth. Your pet – typically a dog – will only have to wear braces for a few months unlike the years that it takes to realign human teeth.
Broken teeth can be repaired in the same way that human teeth are filled, bonded or fortified with a dental crown. Root canals clear infections and may save a decayed tooth. Extractions may be in order for tiny-toothed pets and problems concerning non-essential teeth.
Dental Insurance For Pets
When shopping for pet insurance, you’ll likely want a comprehensive plan that covers basic wellness services including:
- Annual exams
- Teeth cleaning
The plan should also cover emergency and care for illnesses, accidents and injuries, including:
- Cancer treatments
- Treatment for hereditary and congenital conditions
- After-hours emergency care
- MRI, CT scans and X-rays
You can purchase pet insurance from brokers and agents, online and off. Check with the companies that provide your home and/or car insurance, they may offer pet policies. Or ask your vet to recommend an insurance plan.
And don’t forget to protect your own smile! Dental savings plans, the smart alternative to traditional dental insurance, make quality care for all the two-legged members of your family affordable. You can find out more about dental and other innovative health care savings plans by visiting dentalplans.com or calling 1-800-238-5163.