Dr. Tiffany Brown (left) holds Red Boy, a Bichon Frise, as his owner Clare Dana of Jupiter practices brushing his teeth. This was a follow-up visit at El Cid Animal Clinic after dental surgery. Photo by Tim Rivers
By Arden Moore
Foul odors coming from your ready-to-kiss-you dog should not be quickly dismissed as “dog breath.” And when is the last time you did a “down in the mouth” inspection of your cat’s teeth and gums?
As astonishing as it may sound, most cats and dogs show signs of dental disease by age 4, according to the American Veterinary Dental Society. Many oral diseases can be avoided if we get in the same daily habit with our pets that we do for ourselves: Brush their teeth.
In honor of February being proclaimed National Pet Dental Month, I’m encouraging all of you to truly be your pet’s best friend by learning how to perform at-home dental care. By doing so, you can go a long way in keeping your pet healthy and in saving money on your veterinary bills.
Far too often, dental diseases such as tooth resorption, periodontal disease, stomatitis and oral tumors can also impact your pet’s heart, kidneys and other vital organs if untreated.
“Start early and get your pet accustomed to having his mouth opened and touched — much like getting him used to having their nails touched and trimmed,” says Tiffany Brown, DVM, a board-certified veterinary dentist who opened her specialty practice inside the El Cid Animal Clinic in West Palm Beach in October.
Up until then, Palm Beach County did not have any veterinary dentists and the closest one was in Hollywood. The entire Sunshine State only has five veterinary dentists, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Dental specialists like Dr. Brown go beyond routine dental cleanings by repairing jaw fractures, treating oral cancers, correcting malocclusions (teeth misalignment), gingivitis and more. Veterinarians in the county refer their most challenging cases to her.
“My first case in Palm Beach County involved a 1-year-old beagle-dachshund mix who was unable to close his mouth and was acting panicky,” says Dr. Brown. “He had teeth stuck together and needed multiple extractions. The surgery was successful. According to his owner, this dog was happily running and playing at the dog park three days after finishing his pain medications.”
Dr. Brown is a proponent of preventive care and shares these dental tips:
• Use toothpaste designated for cats and for dogs. Do not use human toothpaste because it contains fluoride. “Fluoride is not mean to be swallowed and our dogs and cats do not spit and rinse like we do,” she says. Pet toothpaste is intentionally sticky and contains enzymes that work on teeth.
• Avoid playing fetch with tennis balls. “The fuzz on tennis balls gets dirty and it is abrasive. It can file away the enamel on a dog’s teeth and lead to pulps being exposed and infection. I am a fan of soft, compressible, smooth-coated toys and Kong toys — they bounce and you can stuff them with something tasty,” she says.
• Skip giving your dog ice cubes or synthetic bones. “Believe it or not, dogs’ teeth are weaker than ours — they have much less enamel, but the muscles in their cheeks can generate a thousand more times pressure than ours,” she says. “If you can’t bend or break the chew toy, don’t give it to your dog.”
• Have your veterinarian or technician show you the proper way to brush your pet’s teeth. Make daily brushing a positive time for you and your pet and follow up with treats that have earned the stamp of approval from the Veterinary Oral Health Council; look for the VOHC on the product packaging.
• Refresh water in bowls daily. Provide a few drops of a water additive called OxyFresh, a pet oral hygiene solution that fights bad breath, plaque and tartar.
• In honor of National Pet Dental Month, treat your dog and cat to their own toothbrush, toothpaste and say goodbye to doggy breath and cats refusing to open their mouths.
Your reward: doggy kisses you truly welcome and cat purrs that signify pure contentment.
“If you want to keep your pet healthy, you need to be proactive,” says Dr. Brown. “Don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian for help. We want your pets to live long, happy lives.”
Consult your veterinarian if your dog or cat shows any of these signs:
• Bad breath
• Chronic vomiting
• Becoming messy eaters, leaving pieces of kibble around the food bowl
• Swollen gums
• Bleeding gums (You might discover spots of blood on chew toys.)
• Resistance to being touched or brushed on the head
• Pawing at the face, sneezing or hiding
Arden Moore, founder of Four Legged Life.com, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author and professional speaker. She happily shares her home with two dogs, two cats and one overworked vacuum cleaner. Tune in to her Oh Behave show on Pet Life Radio.com and learn more by visiting www.fourleggedlife.com.