February is celebrated as pet dental month across North America. Every year, veterinary clinics offer free oral exams as well as freebies related to oral care for pets, in an effort to raise awareness about the importance of oral care for companion pets. Dental disease is a very common problem for pets; we all have said to our pooch at one time or another, “Oh, you have stinky breath”. Halitosis (bad breath) and gingivitis should be hard to ignore in dog as they love giving kisses and being in our faces a lot!
The obvious benefits of keeping up with oral care include good teeth and good breath. It should be remembered that good oral health also helps keep the roots of the teeth healthy and prevents cavities. Infected teeth can be a source of infection going to the heart or kidneys, leading to other illness.
The gold standard of dental care for pets is the same as it is for humans – daily teeth brushing, even twice a day brushing. Flossing teeth for pets hasn’t quite made it yet, for obvious reasons. Brushing should be supplemented by dental chews and treats that help with minimizing plaque buildup. To round up a complete dental care plan for your pet, it is important for them to receive an annual oral examination performed by your veterinarian. This is where veterinarians help cut costs by offering the free oral exams during February. An exclusive canned diet can lead to progressive dental plaque build up; it is even more important for animals on exclusive soft diets to receive ongoing teeth brushing and dental evaluations.
Recently, it has become very fashionable to pursue “non-sedation dentistry”. I should point out that such a form of teeth cleaning is not recommended or approved. In fact, in provinces like Ontario, it is regarded malpractice. Such a service is of cosmetic benefit to the teeth only, and offers no additional health benefits to pets. Dental care for pets is not an art, it is science.
An authentic dental cleaning and prophylaxis for pets is exactly the same as would be performed for humans, except all pets need some form of sedation. All pets need sedation because you cannot explain the process away to pets, as you would to a human. A dental procedure includes scaling the tartar off the teeth, probing under the gum line to assess for cavities, polishing, dental x-rays and extractions where indicated. Decades back veterinarians used to scale teeth on awake animals as part of dental care; but this practice was learnt to be of no benefit. In fact “non-sedation dentistry” for pets can be harmful as it may help mask or hide gum infections which can lead to bad breath, cavities, loose teeth, kidney & heart infections etc. If your pet hasn’t had an oral exam for longer than a year, it is time to book a vet appointment.
Please note: Out veterinary team at Hastings Veterinary Hospital provides FREE dental & oral health evaluations during January-February every year. Dental prophylaxis and cleaning is also provided for cats and dogs at discounted prices during this period, each year.
By – Dr. Bajwa,
Veterinarian at Hastings Veterinary Hospital, Burnaby.