Did you know that dental disease is one of the most common medical conditions seen by veterinarians? It’s also THE most common questions I get asked all the time—How do I brush my pet’s teeth? It’s important to know that over 80% of dogs and cats over the age of three have some form of dental disease (plaque, tartar, root resorption, calculus, etc). Few pets show obvious signs of dental pain. Therefore it is paramount for you to have your pet be evaluated for an oral exam by the veterinarian.

Are dental problems the same in pets and people?

Dogs can get many of the same or similar oral diseases as are seen in people. However, whereas the most common dental disease in people is tooth decay or cavities, in dogs and cats, it is periodontal disease. Whether someone develops cavities or not depends on multiple factors including environmental, bacterial plaque, and diet, but ultimately, there is tooth decay.

In dogs, tooth decay is rare representing less than 10% of all dental problems. The most common dental problems seen in dogs are periodontal disease and fractured teeth. Cats can experience severe gingivitis (commonly known as stomatitis) where their teeth may seem healthy but their gums are in bad shape.

What are some signs of dental disease in pets?

Oftentimes you will find pets having a hard time chewing their food and difficulties in grasping for their toys. Some pets may even have evidence of facial swelling either on their jaw or around their orbital region. Not eating is another sign. Perhaps they want to eat their food but it hurts too much to chew. You may even find some blood-tinged staining on their chew toys or bedding. Excessive drooling and halitosis (bad breath) are additional signs of dental disease.

What Can I Do If My Pet Has Dental/Gum Disease?

If your pet has been diagnosed with dental disease, most likely your veterinarian has recommended a professional dental cleaning under general anesthesia. This is, by far, the best method in removing all necessary plaque, tartar and infected teeth. They literally receive the same dental prophylaxis that you would receive!

What Can I Do For Home Care?

The gold standard of care is routine dental brushings (once a day is best but can be challenging). Be sure to look for toothpaste that is free from xylitol and hydrogen peroxide. I want you to utilize a pet friendly toothpaste that is enzymatic. This will really help keep plaque and tartar from accumulating.

Doc, There is NO Way I Can Brush My Pet’s Teeth!

If you are unable to brush your pets teeth, I want you to look into products that are approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). This seal essentially provides an approval by the veterinary profession as an acceptable measure to assist in oral health care in pets (vohc.org). Look into prescription commercial diets that are specifically designed to help break tartar and prevent future plaque accumulation. Additionally, there are safe items that you can place in your pet’s water dish to help prevent plaque and bad bacteria from accumulating!

Adam Christman, DVM, MBA

Chief Veterinary Officer
MJH Life Sciences