Sometimes, in the wee hours of the morning, I lay curled in my bed and dream of
Geroge Clooney -er, I mean my husband- whispering sweet nothings into my ear. I turn my head to him and smile. “Wow,” I say as I lean in, “Did you eat sardines last night?” He just stares at me, breathing heavily, until I open my eyes and realize it’s Emmett blowing dog-breath into my face.
There are myriad causes of icky breath, but the most common cause is icky teeth. Most of us know that the ideal standard of care is to brush our pet’s teeth every day. Do you? If you don’t, you’re not alone. The vast majority of pet owners, including (cough cough) even a few veterinarians, aren’t as consistent as they would like on a daily basis.
If the thought of wrangling your cat with one hand and liver flavored toothpaste in the other strikes terror in your heart, don’t fret. February is Pet Dental Health Month, so there is no better time to revisit some other options available to you.
Over the counter treats are a good way to help reduce tartar and plaque buildup. Greenies and CET chews are just two of many examples product choices out there. These help reduce buildup, but they aren’t going to eliminate the need for brushing or cleaning.
People often ask me, “How come I brush my dog’s teeth and you’re still telling me I need to get my dog a dental? I don’t see any tartar.” And I always respond the same way- “You brush your teeth every day, right? And you still need dental cleanings, and accumulate tartar, and get gingivitis, even though you don’t have big chunks of tartar on your teeth.” Unless they do actually have big chunks of tartar on their teeth too, then I just leave that last part out. All the tooth-brushing and Greenies and rinses out there help keep the teeth and gums healthy between dental cleanings, but these pets still do need and benefit from the full dental cleaning at the vet.
Some dogs and cats are more naturally prone to developing tartar than others. It depends on genetics, the shape of the mouth, and luck. For example, if you have a pug, don’t even think about- your dog needs a dental. Some dogs, like Emmett, get cleanings twice a year- and he has a normal bite. Dogs with malocclusions, overbites/underbites, and teeth turned in all different directions are little teeming petri dishes of bacteria-filled crevasses. It doesn’t stop me from letting the dogs kiss me and the kids, but it is motivation to keep the chompers in good health.
Dental cleanings at the vet are very similar to the cleaning you get at the human dentist- we assess the gums and teeth, scale the teeth, and polish them. Many practices also have the ability to take dental x-rays, which are an exceptional diagnostic tool. Because pets don’t hold still nicely, we have to do this under general anesthesia. I know a lot of people have reservations about this last part, but dental cleanings offer real medical benefits that usually far outweigh the risks of anesthesia in healthy pets. Talk to your vet about your concerns and the risks to your pet. It is tremendously sad to have to remove a mouthful of rotting, abscessed, decaying teeth and realize just how much pain the pet must be in. I can’t tell you how many times I see a pet a few weeks later and the owner says, “It’s like having a puppy again! I thought it was age slowing him down but it was pain.” In addition, these cleanings offer an opportunity to assess the mouth for things we wouldn’t necessarily be able to see in an awake dog- such as fractured teeth and oral masses- and deal with them early.
Many offices are offering special discounts or packages for the month of February. There’s no better time to get your pet’s mouth back in shape- and the kisses you get in return will be all the sweeter for it.