Pet Health: Focusing on Dental Care

cavalier king charles spaniel sitting with toothbrush

By Dr. Veja Tillman, DVM

Dental disease is the most common major health problem affecting dogs and cats. According to the American Dental Society, more than 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show signs of dental disease by the time they are 3 years old. So, chances are, that bad breath from your furry friend could be the first signs of dental disease. Do not ignore this important part of your pet’s overall health and wellness.


Dental disease is a painful infection of the teeth, gums and surrounding structures. This condition occurs when bacteria, plaque, and tartar buildup on the teeth and get trapped beneath the gumline.

Dental disease carries many risks for your pet’s overall health. The bacteria can be absorbed into the bloodstream and cause damage to major organs throughout the body. The lungs, heart, and liver, just to name a few. This damage may lead to chronic, and at times, life-threatening health issues for your pet.


Dental disease causes significant, chronic pain in pets. But our pets are experts at hiding signs of pain, so we may not notice that they are hurt- ing. Instead, we may see decreased or loss of appetite and weight loss, dropping food from the mouth or refusing food, and pawing at the face.

Other signs of dental disease in pets include bad breath, loose teeth or teeth falling out, bleeding from the mouth, lethargy, inactivity or depression, drooling, facial swelling, discharge from the nose or eyes and the gums may be red, swollen, and even bleed.


It is vital to detect dental disease early before it negatively affects your pet’s quality of life. Regular dental evaluations at least every 6 to 12 months should be performed as part of your pet’s regular preventive care exam. During this examination, your veterinarian will identify any problems or concerning areas on the teeth and recommend treatment.

Routine dental cleaning is recommended at least once a year. This helps to remove plaque from teeth beneath the gumline (where bacteria and tartar can hide) and is key to maintaining your pet’s overall dental health.

Homecare is also an essential part of taking care of your pet’s teeth. Brushing your cat or dog’s teeth every day will promote good dental health and prevent potentially expensive surgeries down the road. The use of flavored pet toothpastes and toothbrushes make it easy to accomplish oral hygiene goals at home. Never use human toothpastes, which can contain ingredients that are toxic to animals. Not every dog or cat will let you brush their teeth. So, there are several alternatives to brushing the teeth. Special dental diets, water or food additives, oral rinses and dental chews or treats are all good alternatives. Your veterinarian can help you choose the right alternative for your pet.

February Is Pet Dental Month – Schedule Your Veterinary Dental Appointment Today!


Dr. Tillman is a 2002 graduate of Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine. Her veterinary practice and work experience focuses on patients at emergency and critical care centers in Southwest Florida. She is the ow  4 Pets Wellness Center.”

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