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Dogs and dentistry: the importance of your pet’s oral health

Across the nation, dental students are learning all about the oral health issues that we will encounter in our patients during our professional career. From calculus buildup and caries to generalized aggressive periodontitis and apical abscesses, the ailments that one can face are near limitless. Did you ever think that these same issues could occur in your pet? Cats, dogs and horses are all at risk of developing some of the same issues of the oral cavity that we are, but are often left to deal with the pain and discomfort because they can’t say “Hey! I have a tooth ache!” Let’s look at just how important your #furbaby’s oral health is to they systemic health.

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Pictured: normal occlusion.

Just like it is important for dentists to have a great knowledge of dental anatomy to treat our patients, veterinarians must have a baseline of information of our pet’s dental anatomy. By knowing what the normal anatomy and occlusion should look like, vets can successfully manage the dental health of our furry friends. With this database, they can appropriately diagnose any oral physiopathology that they may encounter and get the animals on the right treatment plan.

Now, I imagine that you all are sitting there thinking, “Our animals must have a complicated mouth.” Well, aside from a different dental formula (meaning the number of specific teeth), the anatomy of the canine and feline oral cavity is relatively the same as ours. So a lot of that oral path that’s running through your head (first years, just wait) is just as relevant to that warm fuzzball curled up at your feet. While we can talk about all of the issues our poor pet’s can face, let’s specifically look at our favorite subject pertinent to oral health: periodontology.

Just like in humans, dogs and cats are no exception to periodontal problems. In fact, 85% of dogs over the age of four have periodontal disease (PD)! This is in contrast to the 47% of adult Americans over the age of 30 that have it. While we are used to diagnosing this problem on our patients, we probably overlook them on our pets. However, the signs, symptoms, and effects are the same: attachment loss, bone loss, mobility, hemorrhage, abscesses and eventually loss of the tooth. What is even scarier is that some of the bacteria responsible for causing the PD in humans are the exact same causative agents in animals. Now I am not saying that we are spreading PD between the two species, however I may have just given someone a research project (cite me!).

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Pictured: clinical photographs showing periodontal disease in canines.

By now, you’re thinking “Ok, so my pet’s oral health is as important as mine. What can I do to help them have a healthy ‘smile?’ ” As you know all to well, PD has many factors (host, local and plaque), but can be successfully managed before it reaches the diseased level. Dr. Sara-Louise Newcomer, a community practice veterinarian and professor at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine says “this [dental cleaning] is something that we often over look, oftentimes because we haven’t looked in our animal’s mouth.” Additionally, she went on to say “[our pets] are really good at hiding pain in their mouths so we don’t know about it until it is really bad, but routine cleanings can help with this.” Second-year Veterinary Medicine Student Lauren French followed up by saying “Veterinary dental care is not an option. It is a necessity for not only the animal’s oral health but the systemic health as well. By taking your pet in for a dental procedure at least once a year, you will have a happier, healthier pet.” It’s often recommended that you brush your dogs teeth at home too. However, your dog may find this distressing and constantly move to avoid the bristles of the brush. To overcome this, you may find that using CBD for pets will relax your pet and then you will be able to brush their teeth with ease. You could also use CBD when taking them to their annual appointment if you know that they’ll be feeling anxious when they get to the vets. Brushing teeth at home doesn’t require any fancy equipment; a toothbrush and dog friendly toothpaste will do. This all sounds familiar right? At these appointments, the procedure closely resembles that of our prophys. The vet should perform the following while the animal is under general anesthesia: chlorhexidine rinse, gross calculus removal, scaling with the ultrasonic and hand instruments, probing and charting, polishing, and fluoride treatment.

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Pictured: a clinical photograph of probing an animal’s gingival sulcus and the veterinary dental armamentarium.

While there are definitely the professional options of teeth cleaning for your animal, there are some “at home” options available as well, such as informing yourself on the food products you buy your pets to make sure they’re best suited for your dog (check out Dr Marty‘s products today). It is recommended that you brush your pet’s teeth daily using the bass technique. This is the gold standard. Additional resources include chlorhexidine rinses, dental foods and even sealants. The main goal, just like that in humans, is to remove the accumulation of plaque. Doing this, you significantly reduce the chances of your pet developing PD.

It is our goal as dentists to ensure that our patients maintain as many teeth as possible throughout their life, and it should be no different for our doggies and kitties. At the end of the day, your #furbaby should be following the same oral hygiene regimen that you are. To ensure the best oral health, daily tooth brushing is the most effective method at removing plaque. That cannot be stressed enough. Additionally, your pet should be seeing the vet, at least, annually for a dental appointment and check-up. The bottom line: healthy teeth for your pets leads to a happy, healthy life. Now go give that sweet little ball of fur some love and a tooth brushing!

Author’s note: I would like to thank Dr. Newcomer and Lauren French for supplying me with lecture notes, photographs and quotes for this post.

~Kyle Kirk, Kentucky ’16, District 7 trustee

Kyle Kirk

Kyle is a D3 at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry, as well as the current District 7 Trustee. When he is not busy with school and ASDA, he enjoys tennis, cooking, going to the horse races with friends, and hiking in mountains of eastern Kentucky.

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  1. Ashley Phares Sara says:

    Love this post! A $$$ saving tip for my fellow dentist (or almost dentist) pet owners: ask you vet for some tranquilizers for your pet, grab a scaler, and you can do a “professional” cleaning yourself. My vet was more than happy to for my terrier when I told her I had a set of scalers at home left from school and wanted to give it a try myself. $7 for 5 pills instead of $300+ for just one cleaning at the vet! And my pup did great! 🙂

  2. Great post especially for the dog owners. We have to keep all our animals teeth healthy just like our patients.

  3. Niveditha says:

    Kyle, this was so informative! I had no idea I’m supposed to brush Coffee Bean’s teeth daily. Thank you for all the great info on how to better care for my little #furbaby.

  4. I do know people who take better care of their dog’s teeth than their own. This was a good read. Thanks!

  5. Paige Daney says:

    You rock, Kyle. Great post! Going to get Hobies teethys cleaned ASAP.

  6. Great post for pet lovers. I think early dental care routines helps to reduce the dental diseases. Thanks for sharing this informative article.

  7. Willie T. Villarreal says:

    Great. I believe oral health should be part of the regular pet care, especially because just like humans, they too can have periodontal diseases which might be very painful and hard to experience. Part of regular oral care is by taking them to the vet once in a while for their oral prophylaxis or professional cleaning.

  8. A really informative article that has made me feel rather guilty. It looks like my ten year old is going for regular checks from now on, although I can’t see him letting me brush his teeth.

  9. Dental care and hygiene is an important part of canine health care. I take my dog to the vet periodically. Thanks for sharing.

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