Everyone knows that people should visit their dentist at least twice a year. Thorough inspections of our teeth and gums, a good cleaning (and the common flossing lecture) are key in maintaining our oral health. But did you know that regular dental care is just as important for our pets? Annual cleanings and polishing not only ensure fresh kisses from our furry companions, but it can prevent disease and costly medical expenses in the future, and prolong your (best) friend’s life.

We now know that dental health directly contributes to our overall health. The most common dental problem in dogs and cats is periodontal disease, which if left untreated, will result in tooth decay and tooth loss, and can contribute to changes in the kidneys, liver, and heart. So what is the best course of action? Brushing your pet’s teeth regularly to remove plaque and tartar is the single most effective way to keep their teeth healthy between recommended annual cleanings. Small toothbrushes and flavored toothpaste made especially for cats and dogs are available in most pet stores or may be provided by your veterinarian. As with most things, starting early and training your pet to tolerate brushings will make them less of an ordeal in the future. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to safely and effectively brush your pet’s teeth.

What to Expect with Dental Cleanings

During annual exams, your veterinarian should take a good look at your pet’s teeth and gums and communicate their condition to you. If needed, they may recommend a dental cleaning and polishing.

X-rays may also be required to get a thorough look at what needs to be done. In almost all cases, anesthesia is required to perform x-rays and effective dental cleanings on animals. This can be stressful for pet parents but anesthesia these days is very safe and actually reduces the risk of injury to your pet during the procedure. Additionally, many veterinarians will perform pre-anesthetic blood work to determine if there are any risks to putting your pet under anesthesia.

With most dental procedures your pet will be anesthetized and then an intravenous or IV catheter will be placed in order to administer fluids while they are sedated. Their vitals will also be monitored during and for a short time after the procedure. Your veterinarian may also prescribe pain medication and/or antibiotics for your pet’s recovery. A good veterinary practice will provide an estimate of these charges and thoroughly explain the steps involved in their dental procedures while also answering any questions you may have.

Other Dental Issues to Look Out For

Our pets are not as prone to cavities as we are, but there are other common dental problems to be on the lookout for. Contact your veterinarian if you observe any of the following before their next annual exam:

-Bad breath
-Broken or loose teeth
-Discolored teeth or obvious tartar buildup
-Signs of infection, such as pus or swelling
-Cysts or tumors in the mouth
-Pet appears to be in pain
-Unusual chewing or drooling

Fortunately, most dental problems can be prevented, corrected or even reversed with consistent and good quality care. Pay special attention to your pet’s dental health and you both will be rewarded with several moreyears of happy and healthy companionship.