The Edmond Sun

February 11, 2013

VET Q&A: Time to check your pet’s teeth

February marks National Pet Dental Health Month

Dr. M. Margaret King
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — As we happily celebrate National Pet Dental Health Month in February, the primary objective is to enhance awareness of dental disease. Dental disease in our pets can shorten a pet’s life and make it feel miserable in the process.

The process of “Lifting the Lip” is one every pet owner should learn. The first signs of dental disease will be the start of plaque building up on the outer surface of the pet’s teeth. It may be a yellow to brown color and will start at the gum line and grow down onto the teeth. The outer surface of the large upper canines is likely the easiest place to see it starting.

As this builds up thicker and thicker, bacteria love to live in the crevice between the plaque and the gum. The crevice full of bacteria and food particles begins to irritate the gums. The gums become reddened from the inflammation due to the bacteria and food particles and it forms somewhat of a cesspool at the gum line.  At this point, you begin to smell the results of rotting food and bacterial presence as a foul-smelling breath.

All of these signs are screaming “help me!” By this time the areas below the gum line already are diseased.

The process of tooth disease development starts with the minerals and salts from the saliva precipitating out and attaching to the teeth. This forms what we call plaque. This plaque continues to build upon the teeth and when you fold in food particles and bacteria always present within the mouth, voila!, we have calculus.

Calculus, often referred to as tartar, is the really bad actor as it eats away the support structures around the teeth. Without professional intervention early in this process, teeth are irreversibly damaged and begin to fall out.

Our pets need twice a day brushing and daily flossing to protect their teeth as well as we do our own. With time they get used to the disease process and go on with their daily activities. All too often it is ignored until the pet becomes listless, has an abscess to the outside of the face or cannot eat due to the pain.

By the age of 2 and certainly 3, pets need their teeth professionally cleaned by your veterinarian. While reading an article on the human side it was reported that people who floss daily can add six years to their lifetime. We are not likely to floss our pet’s teeth but there are many things we can use that can help to clean off or prevent tarter (Biotene Maintenance) or kill bacteria present in the mouth (various oral sprays and water additives), and the old gold standard of brushing their teeth. Be sure to ask your veterinarian for advice in this area and to show you how to “Lift the Lip” and to brush. Use only doggy/kitty toothpaste since pets do not need the fluorides found in our toothpastes, nor do they usually like the minty smell and taste.

Start your pet as a puppy or kitten lifting the lip, brushing the teeth and/or applying cleaners to their teeth. It is so very hard giving up a beloved pet, that every healthy moment we can share with them is golden. Start early to protect their teeth and gums and they will return the love many years over. Happy Pet Dental Health Month!        

DR. M. MARGARET KING, a longtime Edmond veterinarian, is a guest columnist. If you have any questions for her, email them to