When their bite is worse than their bark

February is National Pet Dental Health Month

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published February 22, 2017

 The dental brushing done at home or at grooming stations is great for maintenance, but doesn’t replace a proper cleaning by a veterinarian.

The dental brushing done at home or at grooming stations is great for maintenance, but doesn’t replace a proper cleaning by a veterinarian.

Shutterstock image


METRO DETROIT — If your dog’s breath is stinky, you can’t quite toss Toto a Trident. 

The care of your pet’s teeth is important — so much so that February has been dubbed National Pet Dental Health Month.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, oral disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem for pets, with most animals becoming affected by the age of 3. More than just a cosmetic issue, the yellow teeth and bad breath that accompany a dental problem can lead to more serious problems that impact the function of your pet’s kidneys, liver and heart.

“I would say every week I am pulling teeth on dogs or cats. It’s a super common issue to have dental disease,” said Dr. Christian Ast, associate veterinarian at Plaza Veterinary Hospital in Farmington. 

The American Veterinary Dental College’s website lists even more signs of oral and dental disease, including loose teeth, drooling, dropping food from the mouth, bleeding from the mouth, loss of appetite and a pet’s reluctance to let its owner touch its mouth area.

A major step in keeping your cat or canine’s chompers clean and healthy is making sure they stay clear of plaque, the sticky deposits on teeth that act like a magnet for bacteria. But removing plaque can be a pain for even the most disciplined humans, so it’s no wonder that it’s even tougher for pets.

Ast said to start a regimen of brushing teeth early, preferably from a young age, as a puppy or kitten, so that as your pet ages, it will be comfortable with at-home dental care. Make sure you’re using pet-safe dental products too, as they have fewer toxic components — such as soap and fluoride — than the versions made for people. 

If brushing doesn’t do the trick to remove all of the tartar and plaque, it’s time to let your veterinarian take over.

“Just like for people, getting your teeth cleaned professionally is a good place to start so you’re working with nice, clean teeth,” Ast said. “And it’s important for the animal to be under anesthesia for a proper dental cleaning, since they won’t sit nicely in a dental chair the way we would.”

The process for a real pet dental cleaning is similar to what people experience at their own dentist. The complex process just can’t be matched by regular brushing at home or even at a groomer’s shop. That’s really more cosmetic, Ast said.

“If there’s significant tartar, it’s important to get the stuff up under the gum line, and there’s no way to clean that on an animal that’s awake,” he explained. “A lot of pet parents come in and they’re confused when I tell them their pet has a dental problem, because they’ve been thinking they were getting cleanings at the groomer all this time.”

John Anastasiou, owner of Somerset Dog Grooming in Rochester Hills, Troy and Bloomfield Hills, said groomers at his shops won’t scale your pets teeth like some other places do. That’s a job best left to animal medical professionals.

“We do brushing here, which is literally brushing their teeth with an enzymatic paste,” he said. “It’s not a miracle treatment, but the dog’s breath is going to be a bit fresher.”

Anastasiou said scaling an animal’s teeth without anesthesia is not only painful, it can be dangerous.

“It can be bloody, and when that plaque comes off, we don’t want that being ingested. That’s why vets knock them out, because if they’re conscious during the procedure they’ll keep swallowing,” he explained.

Teeth brushing, like you’d find at a grooming shop or like what you’d do at home, is one way to stave off tooth problems if your pet’s teeth are in relatively good health already. Another good idea is to provide dogs with rougher-textured toys that promote chewing and gnawing.

“I give my dog something hard, like a natural bone, and that cleans teeth good. While they’re chewing, they’re scraping away the plaque,” he said.