Dental Health Myths Debunked
Our resident pet dental expert Dr Nicole Hoskin addresses some of the common misconceptions about pets and their oral health this month.
Every cat and dog has teeth right? You see them every day, but how much do you really know about them? A pet’s teeth are the first part of the digestive system and are important in starting the breakdown of food. They can also bring misery and suffering when dental disease strikes and sadly many of our patients suffer in silence.
So, True or false?
1. It’s normal for pets to have bad breath
Absolutely false! Bad breath is a sign of an increase in bacteria in the mouth and your pet shouldn’t have bad breath any more than you should. Bad breath doesn’t always originate from the oral cavity. It can be coming from any part of the upper digestive tract, but it should not be considered normal. If your pet does have bad breath, a good starting point is to bring them into Prahran Veterinary Hospital for a free nurse dental check to rule out bad teeth as one of the more likely causes. If the nurses can’t see any issues, then a check with a vet might be a good idea to rule out other issues and to help manage the problem.
2. Pets can clean their teeth themselves by gnawing on dental chews or toys, raw bones and antlers
While chewing can help some animals to keep a happy mouth, this statement is unfortunately false. Some patients are so excited by the prospect of chewing bones and antlers, that they get a little carried away and end up breaking their teeth! They can also get caught in the mouth and cause injuries. Swallowing whole bones can cause intestinal blockages or injuries as it comes out the back end. OUCH!
While some chew toys and treats like Greenies can provide limited dental health benefits, they don’t help all dogs. Some dogs such as our Pug and French Bulldog friends have shorter faces and their teeth are often quite crooked, so chewing objects is less effective in these breeds than in their longer nosed cousins. Other pets inhale food so fast it barely touches their teeth as it passes, so dental chews need to be selected with due consideration of all the facts.
3. Dry food helps to keep a pet’s teeth clean
True — but with some caveats. Pets are individuals, and what works well for one may not be the best choice for another. Other health factors such as dietary intolerances and mouth conformation or loss of teeth all need to be taken into consideration when recommending a diet for your pet. Talk with your veterinarian or veterinary nurse about what the best solution for your pet may be.
4. A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human mouth
Unfortunately the wives tales about the healing powers of dog saliva are false. Dogs have different bacteria in their mouths to humans, but they still have a lot of bacteria. That does not make their mouth cleaner, just a different type of dirty. We all know how dogs and cats clean themselves after toileting right? Some dogs (and to a lesser degree cats) like to lick their people. It’s best to avoid letting your pet lick open sores or cuts on your body and if a dog or cat bites you, seek immediate medical attention.
5. Nothing can be done to prevent pet dental disease
The good news is that this is a myth. The most cost-effective thing you as a pet owner can do to help prevent or slow the progression of periodontal disease is to brush your pet’s teeth daily to help remove plaque and prevent tartar buildup. Two minutes a day is all it takes! You would be surprised how well most pets adapt to it with the right rewards and a gentle approach. Our nurses are always happy to show you some tips and tricks to help you on your way.
6. An animal will stop eating if it has a sore tooth
This one is sadly false. Most pets make eating their prime directive in life. It is a strong survival instinct, because to put it simply, if you don’t eat, you starve. If you have a sore tooth, do you stop eating totally or do you just avoid chewing on that tooth or just eat softer foods until you can get to the dentist? Pets don’t know a visit to the dentist can help them so they often just suffer in silence. We see many animals with amazingly poor dental health that are still managing to meet their calorie requirements, but they are all much happier after having their dental pain attended to. Treatment for sore teeth often resolves unexplained poor behaviour, general malaise and those annoying symptoms so often put down to “old age” too.