February is national dental health month for both people and pets. We are all pretty used to thinking about our own dental health, after all most of us started learning the importance of daily tooth brushing even before we learned to tie our shoes. For some strange reason, however, it surprises a lot of people that their pets have teeth too and they need the same kind of care our teeth do or serious dental disease results.
I often have people tell me that they have had pets since they were little children and they never did anything with their pet’s teeth before, so why is it becoming such an issue now? The fact is that pets have always had the same dental health issues. The way it was handled in the past was to ignore the problem and let the animal’s teeth just rot out of its head. In more modern times we have come to recognize that a rotten mouth is a serious health hazard and painful for pets as well as being disgusting for anyone who has to endure pus breath being panted in their face because the dog is trying to adore you. We also have the ability to appropriately address the problems now.
So does your pet have dental problems? I will let you in on a little secret. It doesn’t take a fancy, expensive veterinary education to get a good idea for what is going on in your pet’s mouth. As long as you have opposable thumbs you have the qualifications necessary to peel those lips back along the side of the teeth all the way to the very back molars and really look at them. While you are considering the condition of your pet’s mouth it may help you to play a game of “If this was my mouth…” For example as you are getting up close and personal with your cat’s teeth think to yourself “If this was my mouth and I approached my significant other for a smooch would that person gladly lean in and grant said smooch, or would they recoil in horror from the evil stench that seems to be emanating from the depths of the abyss?” While looking at your dog’s teeth you could think to yourself “If this was my mouth and I flashed a big toothy grin to the blind date that I just met at the restaurant would she smile warmly back at me or would she gather up her things and quickly exit the room after seeing all the brown crud and loosely dangling teeth?”
“But I have my dog’s teeth brushed every time he goes to the groomer.” I am frequently told. If it was your mouth do you think that brushing your teeth once every six weeks would really do anything significant to improve your dental health?
“But I only feed hard food, I never give canned food.” If it was your mouth do you think you could substitute eating crunchy food for tooth brushing and get the same results?
Unfortunately, by the time we end up dealing with most pet’s mouths they are often in an advanced state of disease. A nine year old Mini Schnauzer who has had no previous dental care will likely have a mouth in approximately the same condition as a fifty year old person who has never touched a toothbrush. Because of this, the task of cleaning up a diseased mouth can be involved and can cost several hundred dollars. The improvement in a pet’s health and quality of life, however is tremendous. It is common for people to notice that their pet seems years younger after sources of chronic pain and infection are fixed and the mouth can finally heal.