Pet Dental Health Myths

When it comes to our pets, an element that often causes confusion is dental health. There are many myths and and a lot of misinformation out there about how to keep your pet’s teeth healthy! This Pet Dental Health Month, we want to bust some of the most common misconceptions.

Myth 1. Toothbrushing isn’t necessary. Dental chews can replace brushing.

Toothbrushing is extremely beneficial for all pets! Although dental chews and toys can help to scrape off some of the plaque that builds up on your pet’s teeth, it’s not a substitute for regular brushing with a pet-appropriate toothpaste.

By brushing your pet’s teeth, you can make sure all of the teeth are being cleaned; the toothpaste contains ingredients that aid in the cleaning process.

If your pet just won’t tolerate a brush in their mouth, cleaning their teeth with a small piece of gauze and some pet toothpaste will wipe away most of the plaque, and is far better than nothing. Check out our article for tips on how to get your pet used to teeth brushing.

While brushing daily is ideal, regular brushing even once a week can make a big difference in your pet’s oral health.

Myth 2. Any toothpaste is fine to brush your pet’s teeth.

Nope! Human toothpaste can be very dangerous for pets. It typically contains fluoride and often contains xylitol, both of which can be toxic to cats and dogs.

Even humans don’t swallow toothpaste, we spit it out — but cats and dogs aren’t able to spit very well, so their natural instinct will be to swallow the toothpaste, which can cause vomiting. Pet toothpaste is specifically designed to be safely ingested and is flavored to appeal to pets, with flavors like chicken or peanut butter.

Myth 3. All dogs have bad breath.

The “doggy breath” myth is widespread, but here’s the truth: dogs don’t naturally have bad breath. Bad breath is a result of periodontal disease, and is a sign you should see your vet for a dental checkup. Regular teeth brushing can help to reduce and eliminate bad breath.

Myth 4. You can tell if your pet has a dental issue. If they’re eating normally and their teeth are white, they’re healthy.

Many pet owners believe they’ll know if their pet has a dental problem, because if they have tooth pain, they won’t eat. This isn’t true—pets have a strong survival instinct, and they’ll often continue eating even if it causes them pain.

Similarly, pets with white teeth may still have dental issues under the gumline that aren’t visible. Periodontal disease often causes erosion of the teeth and bones under the gums, plus infections. Cats can also develop painful resorptive lesions on their teeth, which can be extremely difficult for owners to detect. This is why full dental checkups, including x-rays, are vital for your pet’s health.

Myth 5. An anesthesia-free dental cleaning is safe for your pet.

This is completely untrue. Many pet owners are understandably worried about their pet undergoing anesthesia, but it’s far more dangerous for pets to have dental procedures without it.

Firstly, without anesthesia, your pet will undoubtedly be concerned about what’s going on, and will squirm. Any movement, no matter how small, while teeth cleaning instruments are in your pet’s mouth, could cause serious injury, pain, or fear. A thorough dental cleaning also requires some cleaning underneath the gums, which will be painful for your pet without anesthesia.

Additionally, polishing the teeth after scaling is critically important, and it is extremely rare for a dog or cat to tolerate polishing while awake. (Polishing leaves the surface of the teeth smooth, to help prevent buildup of plaque and tartar in the future. Cleaning teeth without polishing afterwards leaves teeth with microabrasions, which actually makes plaque build up faster! So cleaning without polishing actually does more harm than good to your pet’s teeth.)

Your vet will conduct checks, including blood tests, to make sure your pet is a suitable candidate for anesthesia before the procedure. If there’s ever any doubt about the safety of anesthesia for your pet, your vet will speak to you about suitable alternatives.

Myth 6. Bones are good for your pet’s teeth.

False. While popular culture has done a lot to create this myth, bones, antlers, and rawhide are not necessarily good for your pet’s teeth.

Although any kind of chew may help to scrape off plaque, bones and antlers are extremely hard, and can cause your pet’s teeth to crack or chip. This can happen to any dog but is a particular concern for puppies, whose teeth aren’t yet fully developed, and older dogs, whose teeth may not be as strong as they used to be.

Bones, antlers and rawhide can also pose a choking hazard to your pet, if small pieces break off while they are chewing. Similarly, if a sharp piece is swallowed, it could cause a puncture in the stomach or intestines, which may be fatal.

Myth 7. Dry food helps to keep a pet’s teeth clean.

It’s true that dry food does help to keep a pet’s teeth clean in some cases; the pieces scrape against the teeth as the pet is eating, removing some of the bacteria and plaque that have settled there. However, they don’t help in all cases.

For cats and smaller dogs, dry food tends to come in very small pieces that are often swallowed whole, or are typically brittle enough that they break into many pieces as soon as the teeth bite into them. This means that the “scraping” action is far less effective.

You can find a list of foods that have been proven to provide dental health benefits on the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s website.

Dry food isn’t a substitute for good dental hygiene practices, nor is dental health a reason by itself to choose dry food. There are many factors that come into play when selecting the best kind of food, and you should speak to your veterinarian about what’s suitable for your pet.

Summary: Regular tooth brushing is best for your pet.

There is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to pet dental health, but the bottom line is that daily tooth brushing with a pet-appropriate toothpaste is best for both cats and dogs. While dental chews, toys, and specific foods can help keep your pet’s teeth clean, it’s not a substitute for brushing at home and having regular dental checkups at the vet. Oral diseases can have serious consequences, so speak to your vet about what you can be doing to help keep your furry friend’s teeth and mouth healthy.

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