February Is Dental Health Month!

Everyone knows how important dental care is for humans. We’ve seen the scary pictures of people with inflamed gums and perhaps heard the stories of those whose poor dental health contributed to cardiovascular disease.

But do your pet parents understand that their pets have the same dental health needs and similar risks for neglecting those needs?

Chances are they don’t. And that’s why we need National Pet Dental Health Month, an awareness effort sponsored the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) every February. The purpose of the campaign is “to address the significance of oral health care for pets.”

If you’re like many people, you may wonder if awareness months actually make a difference. Kim Thiboldeaux, CEO of the Cancer Support Community, weighed in on the issue. She was speaking specifically of the many cancer awareness months, but her comments can apply to any awareness campaign: “Like a birthday or anniversary, having a time set aside during the calendar year gives some assurance that the disease in question will receive attention. . . . Awareness months do make a difference.”

You can help make a positive difference this February and all year round by reminding your pet parents how important oral health care is for their pets. Four important reminders are to:

  • come in for a yearly checkup
  • look out for oral health problems
  • administer preventative home care
  • understand the importance of anesthesia.

Come in for an Annual Checkup

According to AVMA, pets’ “teeth and gums should be checked at least once a year.” This schedule prevents oral health problems and catches problems early if pets are already showing symptoms.  

Unfortunately, the reality is far from ideal. “It is estimated that over 80 percent [of dogs] have significant oral pathology,” says T. J. Dunn, Jr., DVM. Whether it be gingivitis, early or late periodontitis—you name it, your clients’ pets could have it. Reminding pet parents of this alarming fact will help them understand that annual oral health checkups are vital for pets to get the treatment they need. Because, as Dr. Dunn points out, “the continual presence of bacteria and their associated toxins have a daily impact on the dog’s health.”

Even if pets fall into the lucky 20 percent, with only minor or no oral health problems, a yearly checkup can prevent problems or catch them early. The idea is that pet parents shouldn’t visit the vet just to fix sick pets; they should visit to keep healthy pets healthy!

Look Out for Oral Health Problems

There are times when pet parents shouldn’t wait a whole year before bringing their pets in for dental care. Some problems require immediate attention, but your pet parents may not know what those problems are. Remind pet parents to look out for the following signs:

  • Bad breath
  • Broken or loose teeth
  • Extra teeth or retained baby teeth
  • Teeth that are discolored or covered with tartar
  • Abnormal chewing, drooling, or dropping food from the mouth
  • Reduced appetite or refusal to eat
  • Pain in or around the mouth
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Tumors on the gums
  • Cysts beneath the tongue

If pet parents observe any of these symptoms, they should make an appointment with you as soon as possible.

Prevention Is Better the Key to Better Dental Health

Of course, it would be best if we didn’t have to see pets for emergency oral health needs. We want our furry friends to have healthy mouths all year round!

Remind pet parents that prevention is better than cure. They can prevent oral health problems by brushing their pets’ teeth and by employing other cleaning helps like chew toys.

Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth is the single most effective thing you can do to keep their teeth healthy between dental cleanings, and may reduce the frequency or even eliminate the need for periodic dental cleaning by your veterinarian,” says the AVMA. Encourage your pet parents to aim for daily brushing, but understand that that may not be possible. If they can only manage several times a week, there are other ways to remove dental plaque and tartar.

Remind pet parents that while there are many products marketed for pet dental health, not all of them are effective. They should ask for your recommendation before as they consider any dental products, chew toys, treats, or dental-specific diets.

Don’t Be Afraid of Anesthesia. It’s Safer than Ever

Have you ever heard this from a pet parent? “I’m afraid my pet will die on the table. I’m too afraid to put him under.”

The risk of anesthesia is a legitimate concern, but pet parents should know that anesthesia-free cleaning simply can’t take care of their pet’s entire mouth.

While the teeth may look cleaner after an anesthesia-free cleaning, more trouble lurks under the surface. “There are other parts of the mouth that haven’t even been examined, let alone cleaned, and those parts can still be diseased,” says Dr. Curt Coffman of Arizona Veterinary Dental Specialists, an AVDC board member

“Though anesthesia (or any medical procedure, really) has risks, it has never been safer or more comfortable,” says Dr. Marty Becker, DVM.

The benefits of anesthesia far outweigh the consequences of a dental cleaning that isn’t thorough. Remind your pet parents that the best choice for their pets’ overall health is to allow you to give them anesthetized dental cleanings.

Help your pet parents understand that oral health care is just as important for pets as it is for people. The difference between them and us is that they don’t have opposable thumbs with which to hold a toothbrush! Remind pet parents to bring their pets in for an annual checkup, look out for oral health problems, administer preventative home care, and understand the importance of anesthesia. Their pets’ pearly whites will be healthier than ever.