Dogs, cats, and people all harbor oral bacteria that can cause harmful dental disease. Most pets develop dental disease by age 3, and the condition tends to worsen progressively with time. At-home preventive dental care and routine professional cleanings with our Lytle Veterinary Clinic team are the best ways to maintain your pet’s pearly whites. 

Although our veterinary team performs dental procedures daily, we understand you have questions regarding your pet’s oral care and treatments. By following our comprehensive pet dental care guide, you can feel empowered about becoming a proactive advocate for your furry pal’s oral care.

How does dental disease develop in pets?

Oral bacteria buildup causes sticky plaque at the gumline. At first, this substance causes minor irritation or redness (i.e., gingivitis), but it can quickly progress to more serious gum disease (i.e., dental or periodontal disease). When oral minerals, such as calcium, combine with the plaque and bacteria, a concretion (i.e., tartar) develops. While tartar is unsightly, this buildup traps bacteria under the gumline, and they destroy the supporting tooth structures, including bone. Teeth may loosen, develop painful abscesses, or fall out.

Is my pet at risk for dental disease?

All pets are at risk for dental disease, and most have some gum disease by age 3. Small- and toy-breed dogs, especially those with flat (i.e., brachycephalic) faces, such as Maltese terriers or shih tzus, have crowded teeth and abnormal bite patterns that predispose them to more severe disease that develops more quickly than in larger breeds. Similarly, dogs with long (i.e., dolichocephalic) faces, such as dachshunds or greyhounds, also experience more severe dental disease. In addition, as your pet ages, they are more likely to suffer from advanced periodontal disease.

How do veterinarians diagnose dental disease?

You may suspect your pet has dental disease if they have bad breath, yellow or brown teeth stains, and red, swollen, or bleeding gums. Our Lytle Veterinary Clinic team can diagnose most pets’ dental disease during a routine oral examination. We determine the dental disease stage by evaluating the amount of visible tartar, and gum inflammation and recession. However, if we don’t anesthetize your pet, our oral assessment is limited because we cannot see the tooth roots without taking an X-ray. To assess your pet’s mouth fully, we must provide them with anesthetization.

Do pets need professional dental cleanings?

Our veterinary team recommends professional dental cleanings as a prophylactic and therapeutic treatment measure for all pets. We perform professional cleanings while your pet is anesthetized to ensure your furry pal does not feel stress or pain, and so that our team can work safely inside your pet’s mouth. In addition to cleaning and polishing teeth, our veterinary team will perform a comprehensive oral examination, record details in a special dental chart, perform necessary extractions, and treat all their dental problems. 

Studies show that the majority of dogs’ and cats’ dental pathology lies below the gumline, which is only visible on X-ray. Our team takes full-mouth digital X-rays to evaluate your pet’s entire oral cavity and ensure we detect any brewing problems to avoid having to perform a second dental procedure shortly after the first.

Can I treat or prevent my pet’s dental disease at home?

Professional dental cleanings are only one aspect of a complete oral health care program. To extend the time between professional cleanings, our Lytle Veterinary Clinic team recommends you implement a home dental care program. The gold standard for home care is daily toothbrushing using a soft-bristled brush and pet-specific toothpaste. Our team will demonstrate how to brush your pet’s teeth, which is easier than you think.

For pets who won’t tolerate toothbrushing or as an adjunct to this at-home routine, we recommend various products that reduce plaque and bacteria buildup. These may include prescription foods, chews, water additives, gels, wipes, and sprays. Check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) website for a list of safe and effective dental health products.

What happens if I don’t ensure my pet receives dental care?

Untreated dental disease is painful, and if your pet is severely affected, they will suffer unnecessarily, having trouble eating, losing interest in play or toys, and becoming withdrawn. In addition to this quality-of-life decline, dental bacteria can spread through the bloodstream from the mouth to major organs (e.g., kidneys, heart). In short, dental care is essential to your pet’s overall health, especially as they age.

The best oral care for pets involves a combination of home care and professional cleanings. To determine the best regimen for your four-legged friend, we recommend scheduling annual wellness care visits, which include a thorough oral examination, with our Lytle Veterinary Clinic team. Call us to learn more about our oral care services or to schedule your pet’s next routine checkup.