February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and a good reminder to pet parents to take their dogs and cats in to the vet for an exam and cleaning.
Of course, you should also be brushing your pet’s teeth at least twice a day if possible, but not less than three times a week. Not only is it a bonding opportunity, but it’s a great time to check for any dental issues your dog or cat may have. They can have many of the same issues that humans do, although there are some unique to their species.
For one thing, dogs just have more teeth than humans — 42 for them vs. 32 for us. Their front teeth are also pointed and sharper and, of course, they have to pairs of prominent fangs at the front of their muzzles.
Cats have fewer teeth — they start with 26 “baby” teeth and end up with 30 as adults — but they are all also pointier and sharper than ours, especially since cats are obligate carnivores. Although they do have molars, which dogs and humans use for both chewing and grinding things like vegetables and plants, cat molars lack the grinding surfaces and are primarily used for chewing up meat once it’s been shredded by their other teeth.
Maintaining dog teeth
Most of the dental conditions dogs can experience also happen in humans, although some are rarer than people in others. One condition common in dogs but less common in people is gingival hyperplasia, which simply means overgrowth of the gums.
They can thicken and wind up completely covering the teeth, making cleaning and eating more difficult. It is most often due to inflammation, which can be easily treated, but is also caused by certain drugs, in which case your vet can determine the best way to cut down and eliminate the medication to cure the condition.
If it’s caused by medication, then the overgrowth will abate. Unfortunately, if it was due to inflammation, then the only recourse after that’s dealt with is surgical removal of the excess tissue.
Periodontal disease afflicts both dogs and humans alike, and it can lead to tooth loss, abscesses, and even heart disease. This is why regular cleanings and check-ups are so important for you and your pets.
This condition is much more common in smaller dog breeds, since they have to fit those same 42 teeth into much smaller mouths. This leads to crowded teeth which can lead to a build-up of plaque and tartar.
Dogs can also suffer from orthodontic issues, just like humans, with some of the more common forms being a canine overbite, in which the lower jaw is shorter than the upper jaw, so that the top teeth close in front of the bottom teeth. This can be prevented if it’s treated while the dog is a puppy, but dogs will still require treatment as adults to avoid tooth wear and soft tissue trauma.
Persistent deciduous teeth, which also effects humans but is rarer, is a condition in which an animal or person fails to lose all of their baby teeth even after their grown-up teeth come in. This results in two teeth trying to take up the same spot, and often results in the adult tooth being forced to grow out in the wrong direction.
The condition can also lead to difficult to clean gaps between the two teeth, parallel to the jawline, allowing tarter and plaque to build up.
Since an adult dog has fifty percent more teeth than an infant, any extras that decide to hang around can cause serious problems. Breeds particularly prone to it often fall into the toy category: Chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers, Maltese, and toy poodles
Maintaining cat teeth
While dental problems are the most common issue seen by veterinarians in cats and they are the same ones that dogs and people have, there tend to be fewer breed-specific issues with one general exception.
Like dogs, though, you don’t have to go with a purebred cat.
Healthy mouth, healthy and happy pet
As with humans, dental disease can affect overall health in general, especially the heart, kidneys, liver, and joints. If you love your fur babies, take good care of their teeth and gums. They’ll return the favor by loving you back all during a long and healthy life — and giving you kisses with a non-stinky mouth!
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