“Statistics from the American Veterinary Dental Society report at least 80% of dogs and 70% of cats by age three show signs of periodontal (gum) disease.”
Dogs and cats have teeth (“duh, doc!”)… I know this is a painfully obvious statement but many times over I see animals whose teeth are literally rotting in their mouths. I know I hate the feeling my teeth have when I skip an evening brush because I’m just too tired; I shudder at the thought of missing 5 years worth of brushing as the majority of our pets do!
I know that life is busy and I must confess that I don’t brush my pets’ teeth with any regularity. That being said, since I recognize the shortcomings of my at home dental care, I just plan on a yearly or every other year full dental cleaning under anesthesia. I know that many people are concerned about putting their beloved pets under anesthesia, but the risk of chronic oral infection and secondary kidney and heart disease is actually far greater than the risk of anesthetic complications. An additional benefit of just planning on routine dental cleanings is that we can hopefully avoid long anesthetic procedures with many extractions and instead opt for 30-45 minutes of anesthesia with routine cleaning.
Many pet owners are taking their pets to boutiques and pet stores for a scaling without any anesthesia. I strongly discourage this for the sake of my patients (I assure you it has nothing to do with drumming up business or meeting a bottom line!). The American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) has compiled a comprehensive list of reasons why non-anesthetic scaling is not beneficial, and may actually be harmful. Of these, my top issue is that the level of cleaning on an awake animal is just not thorough. Its impossible to clean the teeth beneath the gum line or the tongue surfaces. That being the case, the cleaning is largely cosmetic and isn’t really doing anything to benefit your pet’s health.
All that being said, the best thing you can do for your pet’s teeth is regular, at home care. The most rewarding approach is daily brushing. I can tell you from experience, I do have the occasional pet whose teeth are brushed once a day and it does wonders for fighting off dental disease! There is nothing I love more (yeah, I’m pretty easy to please) than seeing a 12 year old dog with sparkling white teeth and no history of a full dental cleaning! I love seeing an owner puff up with pride over a job well done. The AVDC has other good recommendations for dogs and cats for helping to slow the buildup of tartar and dental disease. The key to brushing is patience, most animals will adapt to it, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Imagine their dismay when their human is all of a sudden cramming their finger with some sticky goo in their mouths; I wouldn’t sit still either! As with all things pet, the best approach is often slow, positive introduction of new experiences.
I know that you all want not only a long time with your pets, but quality time as well. Investing in the oral health of Spot, Fluffy and Fido will guarantee to keep them with you longer and in better health. As your friendly veterinarian, my goal mirrors yours. Let’s clean some teeth!