An Ounce of Prevention: Pet Dental Health Increases Longevity

iStock_000081523419_LargeWhen you think of your pet’s health, the idea of disease prevention likely comes to mind. Certainly, establishing good habits around nutrition and exercise are critical to good health, but a major component of your pet’s overall wellness is often overlooked.

If improving your pet’s dental health isn’t on your list of New Year’s resolutions, it should be! Keeping up with regular brushing, exams, and teeth cleanings can add years to your precious pet’s life.

A Long Way

Caring for your pet’s teeth and gums goes a long way to preventing numerous diseases that affect more than just the mouth. Regular brushing can remove bacteria that cause plaque and tartar to build up, which can lead to dangerous inflammation and damage to the teeth. Even worse, bacteria can travel via the bloodstream to your pet’s heart, liver, or kidneys and cause serious infections.

If your pet is over the age of 3 and has never had a dental exam, he or she is 85% more likely to be diagnosed with periodontal disease.

What is Periodontal Disease?

Shockingly, periodontal disease is the most common disease among cats and dogs and is caused by the infectious bacteria that coats the teeth and surrounding tissues. Advanced periodontal disease can actually destroy bone. The following symptoms associated with inflammation are often present:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Bad breath
  • Worn, broken, or loose teeth
  • Increased vocalization when eating
  • Lumps or bumps in the mouth
  • Shying away from touches on or around the mouth, chin, and head
  • Preference for chewing on one side of the mouth

Professional Pet Dentistry

Your pet’s regular wellness visits include an assessment of his or her oral health. From there, we may recommend a more thorough dental exam under anesthesia and/or professional cleaning of the teeth and below the gum line. This allows for the safest and most comfortable experience for your pet; however, we understand the concerns associated with anesthesia, and we’re happy to help you and your pet through this process.

Among other diagnostics, digital radiographs taken beforehand provide enormous insight into your pet’s dental health, including bone loss, abscesses, and the extent of any decay.

Your Pet’s Dental Health at Home

While it’s best to train a young pet to accept brushing, your senior pet can also learn to enjoy the practice. Brushing does not have to be a scary or miserable experience, and it’s made easier with these tips:

  • Purchase a pet toothbrush and toothpaste that has an enticing flavor (chicken liver is a top seller).
  • In a well-lit room, invite your pet to come close to you and lift up his or her lip.
  • Insert your finger and begin to massage your pet’s teeth and gum line.
  • Let him or her sniff or taste the yummy pet toothpaste.
  • If you notice your pet’s acceptance, introduce the toothbrush and try gently brushing at a 45-degree angle in a circular motion. It’s okay if you only get a few of the front teeth at first.
  • Wrap your index finger and thumb across the top of the nose and curl the upper lip up. This will allow you to reach the inner areas of the mouth. Use the same technique for the lower teeth, but gently cup the muzzle or jaw instead.
  • Be on the lookout for any swelling, bleeding, or broken teeth.
  • Praise, praise, praise! Afterward, give your pet lots of snuggles, kudos, or playtime as a reward.


Knowing that you can prevent damaging illnesses caused by poor dental hygiene is a strong motivator for responsible pet owners. Your friends at Wellesley-Natick Veterinary Hospital are here to support your commitment to pet dentistry, so please contact us with any questions or concerns. Now go get brushing!