We all know the importance of dental hygiene. Brushing your teeth two times a day, at the very least, is something that is instilled in each of us at an early age. But what about your pet’s teeth? Many pet owners may not know that animal’s teeth require about the same amount of maintenance as their own.
While February is National Dental Health Month for humans and pets, Vale Park Animal Hospital (VPAH) goes beyond the shortest month of the year to commemorate the message of good oral health.
“For the last several months, we’ve been doing what’s called ‘Every month is dental month’; We do this most of the year here at VPAH,” said Dr. Mary Ann Sheller, Vale Park veterinarian, and practice owner. “If pet owners have a dental procedure done that we’ve recommended within 30 days of the recommendation, we give a $50 coupon that owners can use to help pay for the procedure.”
Just like humans, a pet’s dental health is an important part of their overall health, and lack of dental care can cause, or be caused by, other health problems. Dental diseases affect the teeth, gums, and jaw. Bacteria in the mouth can get into the bloodstream and cause serious infections in the kidneys, liver, lungs, and heart. If these problems are not caught and treated in time, they can even result in death.
Taking care of your pet’s oral health begins with an exam of the pet’s mouth performed by an experienced veterinarian, such as those at VPAH. Radiographs or X-rays may be needed to evaluate the animal’s dental health below the gumline. Since most dental diseases occur below the gumline, the cleaning and evaluation are performed under anesthesia. A dental procedure varies in price and depends on how severe the inside of the pet’s mouth is.
“It can be expensive, especially if a dental problem has been ignored or let go. A lot of times, people don’t realize their pets have teeth problems until they notice a smell or a tooth falls out. By that time, there’s not much we can do to save some of those teeth,” Sheller said. “A young, healthy animal will probably run about $350-$400. We’ve done dental procedures that were $1,200-$1,500 because the pet was suffering from a very bad dental disease and we had to do some major extractions. It was almost a reconstruction of some of the jaw.”
Although a dental procedure can seem expensive compared to the average human dental visit, it’s justified because it helps to ensure your pet is receiving exceptional service and safety.
“Compared to when a human is going to the dentist, where you’re cooperating and not needing sedation, we have to do a very careful anesthesia process to make the dentistry possible and safe,” Sheller explained. “Without anesthesia, you can’t perform this procedure the right way -you can’t clean under the gumline, can’t polish, or any of the really important parts of the dental procedure.”
In addition to regular dental check-ups, there are a few things pet owners can do at home to help prevent any of those issues, such as dental treats and chewing on certain toys to help promote good dental health. However, Dr. Sheller says the golden standard is brushing - teach your dog, or even your cat when they’re fairly young to tolerate a good brushing at home with a toothbrush.
“Personally, I’m a fan of wrapping a finger in some gauze with pet-safe toothpaste or baking soda, and using those to break up the enzymes. You have to do it every day because the soft plaque that can be cleaned off with a brush, turns into tartar, which is hard. Once it’s tartar, then you can’t remove it yourself at home. People who brush their pet’s teeth every day can really make a difference in how often we have to get involved.”
Common signs of dental disease include:
- Yellow or brown buildup (tartar) on the teeth
- Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
- Bad breath
- Excessive drooling
- Changes in eating or chewing habits
- Pawing at the face
- Loose teeth
Even if your pet may not be showing these symptoms, VPAH recommends you have one of their experienced veterinarians evaluate your pet’s dental health at least once a year. Bacteria, food debris, and other harmful things can accumulate around the teeth, and if left unchecked, will lead to the deterioration of soft tissue and bone surrounding the teeth.
To schedule an appointment for your pet at Vale Park Animal Hospital, click here or call (219)-462-5785.