Dental Care

How To Keep Your Pet’s Teeth Healthy

pet-tooth-brushingJust like the humans in the household, your pet’s teeth require regular dental care. Your pet’s dental health is a critical factor in their overall health and quality of life. We want to make sure you, our clients, know how to best care for your pet’s teeth at home and when your pet requires further dental care.

  • Up to 85% of dogs and cats have some degree of periodontal disease by the age of 3. Periodontal disease is an inflammatory disease of the supporting structures around the teeth, resulting in bone loss, loose teeth, infection and pain. Periodontal disease is the result of plaque and tartar accumulation on the teeth, especially below the gum line. Infection from periodontal disease can cause kidney, liver and/or heart disease.
  • Signs of dental disease include foul mouth odor, favouring one side when chewing, reluctance to chew hard food/treats and loose or missing teeth. However, most pets show no obvious signs of dental disease even when they have serious dental pain and infection.

At- Home Care:

At- home care is vital to keeping your pet’s teeth healthy. It is important that when you use products intended to improve dental health, to make sure these products are certified by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). This council certifies products that are scientifically proven to reduce plaque and/or tartar. There are a list of these products on the VOHC website. Although tooth brushing is the best way to remove plaque and prevent tartar formation, this isn’t possible for all pets or owners.There are other options that are lower maintenance that will still improve your pet’s oral health.

  • Daily tooth brushing is the best way to reduce plaque on your pet’s teeth. Plaque is a coating of bacteria and debris on the surface of the teeth. Within 24 hrs, plaque begins to harden into tartar. This is why tooth brushing on a daily basis is so important. Select a tooth brush specially formulated for dogs or cats. In larger dogs, a long handle and angled head can help you reach the back teeth. Sometimes smaller dogs and cats will tolerate finger brushes better. Choose an enzymatic toothpaste specially formulated for pets in a flavor that they will like. Gently lift the upper gum and brush back and forth on the outsides of the upper and lower teeth. Make sure to get all the way to the back molars, as well as brushing the canines and incisors. When you initially start brushing your pet’s teeth, start slow and use treats and praise to create a positive experience.
  • Dental diets – Dental diets are prescription diets available at the clinic that are clinically proven to prevent buildup of plaque and tartar. They work by mechanical action and/or enzymatic action. They are most effective when fed exclusively, but can also be mixed with other diets or used as treats.
  • Healthy Mouth – Healthy Mouth is a drinking water additive and gel. This product reduces plaque formation on teeth by 77%. This product is added to your pets drinking water and is generally well accepted.
  • Petsmile – Petsmile is a toothpaste that can be used with brushing, but is also effective when applied with a cotton swab or your fingertip. This product is proven to reduce plaque formation and freshen breath.
  • Chews and treats – Chews and treats certified by the VOHC can help reduce plaque and tartar on teeth. The chews we use most commonly at the clinic are Veggie Dents (dogs) and CET Chews (dogs and cats). When using chews, make sure to reduce calories in the diet accordingly and make sure your pet does not swallow large chunks as this could cause an intestinal obstruction. Avoid feeding bones, hooves and antlers to your dog as they can cause tooth fractures. Again, make sure any product you use has been VOHC certified.

Normal Healthy Tooth


Periodontal disease. The gums are red and inflamed and the roots are visible due to bone loss.


Severe periodontal disease. Notice how much the gum has receded and how much bone has been lost.

Dental care at the vet clinic:

Dental assessments are a part of every pet’s annual wellness examination. Some pets will require assessments at other times of the year if there are concerns about dental disease.

  • During the dental assessment, the teeth are examined for discoloration, fractures, loosening, degree of tartar/ gingivitis and abnormal occlusion. If there are signs of significant dental disease present, one of our veterinarians will go over the recommendations for dental care with you. Often this includes an oral hygiene procedure under general anesthetic.
  • During your pet’s oral hygiene procedure, all of the teeth are examined visually, a dental probe is used to measure pockets and radiographs are taken to examine the tooth root. The teeth are cleaned with an ultrasonic scaler and polisher.
  • Sometimes surgical extraction of significantly diseased teeth is required. In this situation, local anesthetic blocks are used for pain control as well as injectable and oral pain medications. Your pet may also require antibiotics if there is infection present. Most pets recover very quickly from their oral hygiene procedure and are back to themselves within a day or two.
  • Anesthesia in pets is generally very safe. We take precautions to ensure that their anesthetic is as safe as possible with preoperative blood work, intravenous fluids given during and after their procedure and careful monitoring during anesthesia by a registered Animal Health Technologist using advanced monitoring equipment.
  • Many of our clients ask about anesthetic free dentistry. We advise against anesthetic free dentistry for several reasons:
    • Awake dental cleanings cannot clean all surfaces of all teeth and cannot address periodontal disease below the gum line.
    • X-rays cannot be used to evaluate the tooth root which is where a lot of disease is found.
    • There is potential for trauma to the jaw or mouth with restraint.

    Even though the teeth look cleaner after anesthetic free dentistry, there is often undetected disease still present.
    The staff at Arrowhead Vet Center in Cochrane AB is always happy to discuss your pet’s dental health and answer any questions you may have.