Westbury Animal Hospital
713.723.3666 · 4917 S. Willow Dr. Houston, Texas 77035 

Veterinary Dental Patients are Straight out of the 1800's

by Emily Gaugh, DVM, MPH

My father is a human dentist and I have many memories of him taking our dogs to the vet growing up. Occasionally, he would challenge our family vet after they performed professional dental services and extracted a tooth. In his line of work, preserving teeth is what he does for a living and he is very proud of his profession. After years of working with veterinarians and being a veterinarian I see my father in some of my clients faces after their pets dentals. I wish I could help them understand this one fact: Veterinary medicine has advanced dental technology that is comparable to human dentists, but our patient’s mouths are straight out of the 1800’s!

What am I talking about, 1800’s? In 2015 we are expected to brush our teeth twice a day or after every meal, visit the dentist every 6 months, floss routinely, and have a pain free mouth. Did you know that before 1930, brushing our teeth was not common place? People walked around with rotting teeth, severe abscesses, heavy calculus and debris. If you went to see your dentist, you expected to have some teeth pulled out of sheer necessity. Now don’t get me wrong, there are those golden pet parents out there who regularly brush their pet’s teeth and get professional cleanings once a year. But not every pet is compliant nor every owner. And these pets live in chronic pain.

When I open a pets’ mouth during a dental procedure, I am often faced with chunks, and I mean chunks, of heavy calculus overlaying deep cavernous pockets and infection. Did you know we have a special instrument just for chiseling off this thick layer of plaque? Often when removing this heavy layer of calculus we find this was the only thing holding the teeth in place and they fall out of their own accord.

The Challenge: Let’s bring your pets mouths’ into this century!

Stop what you are doing and call your pet over to you right now. Pick up a clean light colored washcloth or hand towel and place it over your index finger. Now rub between your pet’s gums and teeth for a few swipes on each side, then retract your hand and look at your cloth. Look how much grime you got off in 2 seconds! Now pat yourself on the back because you just brushed your pet’s teeth! That was it! All it takes is 10 seconds a day.

Now, add some pet toothpaste to get your pet to enjoy these “cleanings” and they will start to seek you out for their brushings.

Not every pet is the same, and I don’t expect a Labrador to need the same care as a Pekingese. Genetics can play a large role in the amount of calculus build up as well as the crowding of teeth. Follow your veterinarians’ advice on how often your pet needs a dental. Some animals need a professional cleaning twice a year while other pets require a cleaning every other year. Your at home care can stretch out the times between full cleanings.

Those non-compliant pets are out there. I know them. And I don’t expect you to do something I would not be brave enough to do. There are many other options for these pets; discuss with your veterinarian diet and treat options for dental health. If your pet will not comply, then know you are the perfect candidate for more routine professional cleanings. And that is OK; just make every effort to be consistent.

You should know bad breath is not normal in our pets, but somehow it is accepted by most pet parents as just part of owning a dog. This problem can be prevented and treated. So be patient, start slow, and form those daily habits that you already do for your own dental health and apply them to the rest of your family.


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