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When is it Not Your Average Doggie Breath!

Author: Dr. Karen VanKirk, DVM

Does your dog or cat have breath that would stop a freight train?  If so, your pet could be suffering from poor dental health.  Healthy teeth and gums are very important in the overall health of your pet, just like in people.  Many infections and degenerative diseases throughout the pet’s body start with infected teeth and gums.

Ideally good dental health should begin with your pet’s first veterinary visit.  At this time your veterinarian will make sure your puppy or kitten's teeth are developing properly as well as ensuring their jaw is aligned.  As they mature, puppies and kittens should lose their baby teeth starting around 14 weeks of age and the permanent teeth should all have erupted by 6 months of age.   Occasionally baby teeth do not fall out as scheduled and this can cause misalignment of the permanent teeth as they compete for the same space.  In this situation, your veterinarian will recommend removing the baby teeth to prevent crowding and abnormal positioning of the adult teeth.

As your pet matures, the dental health exam will continue to be an important part of the annual exam.  During these visits, your veterinarian will check to make sure that your pet's gums are not red and inflamed (a condition called gingivitis), check to make sure there is no excessive tartar, fractured teeth or oral tumors.   Gingivitis and tartar accumulate over time, in spite of our best efforts to brush the teeth and prevent tartar build up.  Just like your dentist recommends a professional dental cleaning every 6 months in addition to the dental home care, pets need dental cleanings at regular intervals to remove the plaque and tartar and prevent additional oral diseases and advancing periodontal disease.

A proper dental treatment for your pet will include dental cleaning, dental x-rays, and a thorough oral exam while your pet is under general anesthesia.  This will allow the tartar to be removed with the proper instruments, gums can be rejuvenated and any diseased teeth or tooth roots can be extracted.  Dental x-rays are a necessary part of the complete dental exam as they can show diseased tooth roots under the gum that are not visible any other way.   In some cases, a severe condition may be present such as a fractured jaw or an oral tumor which may need to be addressed with the help of veterinary dental specialist and oral surgeon.

In many cases, pets do not exhibit any symptoms associated with poor oral health.  Be vigilant for any signs of discomfort that might arise in your pet.  Pets with sore mouths will often drop food or make exaggerated chewing motions.  Pets may stop eating dry food or approach their food bowls eagerly and then hesitate to eat.  Contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice any bleeding from the mouth, pawing of the mouth, any saliva staining of the chin or neck, or any unusual foul odors coming from the mouth.  If these signs are noted schedule an appointment for your pet to have an oral exam right away!

Together you and your veterinarian can partner to provide your pet with a healthy, pain free mouth for years to come.  

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