Why dental care is important for your pet's health

Pet teeth - more than just little white pegs that chew stuff

How many times have you heard this expression: “Vets always try to make extra money off you by saying your pet needs a dental treatment.” ?

It's time to set that record straight - because it couldn’t be further from the truth. Not one veterinarian I know just loves to spend hours of their life cleaning a rotten mouth full of stinky teeth, nor do we like seeing our patients with gingivitis and sore teeth. We do it because the pet needs it, and if we push harder, it is merely a reflection of how desperately the pet requires a dental treatment. I am here to advocate for my little furry patients – not for an extra financial benefit.

So why do vets care about pet teeth so much? And what do I wish you all knew about teeth?

Here’s my top 8:

1/ Why is seeing a dental vet for teeth important?

When it comes to vets, you often get what you pay for. As an example, at Bondi Vet we have a dental vet (she has post graduate qualifications in dentistry) and she’s more expensive than a vet without any specific dental education or experience. BUT, a vet that does not specialise in pet dentistry might not have dental x rays, which could mean there will be a lot of guesswork as to what is happening at the root level of the tooth. They might use a manual pick rather than an expensive drill, and they might not have someone qualified preparing or monitoring your pet under general anaesthesia. This could all work out fine - but it’s a punt with your pet’s life in my opinion. My pets ONLY see our dental vet - and I use her because I’ve seen her work - and she is not just a bit good - she’s next level and she changes pets lives for the better.

2/ Do your pet’s teeth hurt when they aren’t good?

Yes. You can say whatever you want, but I can tell you right now, yes, they hurt. Pets don’t whinge like we humans do - they just deal with it. Many times, as a veterinarian I can see evidence they hurt - things that you don’t see. I can see where they have rolled food around in their mouth over time to avoid food touching certain parts of their mouth. I can see how red and angry the gums are and how they flinch or bleed when I touch them. Pets rarely tell you they have a sore tooth like you’d expect. I hear people say “but they are still eating” which really isn’t a great indicator of their health. Please don’t wait until your pet stops eating before you do something, that's downright cruel.

3/ Most small dogs have worse teeth than big dogs.

It’s not your fault. When it comes to teeth, genetics play a big role. Just like some humans don’t have good teeth, dogs are the same. I know some dogs who’ve had literally no dental care their entire lives and their teeth are pretty good. Others that need a dental treatment every 6-12 months and still have to get some teeth removed. Even with homecare, good nutrition and all the right care, some dogs just have bad teeth - but this doesn't mean you can ignore them!

4/ You don’t need a fancy dog toothbrush but brushing helps. A lot.

Just get yourself one of those baby “my first toothbrushes” from the supermarket. No human toothpaste - water will do, and start brushing! Ideally everyday, but a few times a week still helps. The earlier you start brushing the better your dog’s health will be down the track. A lot of people use those finger brushes - I don’t like using them but each to their own - I prefer the handle of a human toothbrush!

5/ How dental health influences your pet's general health

According to the Journal of Cardiology, having good teeth free of gingivitis reduces the incidence of heart disease by 14%. While a similar study doesn’t exist for dogs and cats, I would think it would be fairly similar. This is a big deal especially if you own a small white fluffy (maltese, bichon, cavoodle, cavalier or poodle) that already tend to get more heart disease than other breeds later in life. In practice I see it time and time again, over a long period of time (like years) the dogs with the worst mouths always end up with the worst hearts.

Research in humans ALSO suggests that people with good oral hygiene are less likely to develop kidney disease. And again, even without a study this is very likely to be the case for our pets. It makes sense right? Chronic inflammation in any part of the body stresses it out. Like a domino effect, it ends up causing problems in other parts of our body.

6/ Feeding dry food doesn’t help their teeth.

At all. I can honestly tell you I have never ever seen any difference in teeth when a pet is fed dry food vs something else. Dry food does not clean teeth or have any effect on keeping teeth in good condition. It would be like saying you eat dry cereal everyday for your teeth instead of brushing them. (I’d like to see that!). Dental specific dry foods do help (a bit) as do dental treats (also a bit) but like everything they won’t mean your dog doesn’t ever need dental work - it just means hopefully that dental work won’t be as extensive and further apart.

7/ Are raw bones safe for dog's teeth?

If you are going to do raw bones - cool. They do help keep teeth clean, but you have to know the pros and cons. If you choose a bone too big, they might break teeth (and that’s really bad), and if you choose bones too small (like a chicken neck for a Labrador) they don’t help and you’ll just end up with a fat dog. There are some bad things and illnesses that can happen with raw (mostly chicken) bones. It doesn’t mean you can’t use them, but you’ve got to balance out the risk vs reward. Some dogs (like mine) get a bit unreliable with bones - like guarding and growling type behaviour - and if this happens it’s a good idea to not have bones around.

8/ If your vet says they need to take some teeth out, let them!

So many people are worried about their pets having no teeth and not being able to eat. Dogs have 42 teeth and cats have 30 adult teeth. Even if they lost 10 of them, they will still have enough teeth! Secondly, they live happier and healthier lives without crumby teeth in their heads - and in fact most of them eat better without teeth that don’t hurt!

What are some other ways to tell your pet has a sore mouth?

Getting less energetic in general (often people just say “they’re just getting older”), getting grumpier with people or other pets, getting clingier or having more separation anxiety, bad behaviour like barking excessively, or even something like getting fussier with what food they’ll eat. Many times, once their teeth are fixed and no longer painful, they often have a complete personality change (for the better!).

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