6 Common Myths About Your Pet's Dental Health

With February now behind us, National Pet Dental Health month is technically over, but you certainly shouldn't limit your pet's oral hygiene to 28 days out of the year. Making your pet's dental health a part of their overall care is an essential part of keeping a healthy dog or cat, and becomes especially true the older your pet gets. With dental practices expensive and often unwanted by our four-legged companions, there are a lot of alternatives to treating your pet's teeth. In order to keep your pet as healthy as possible, it's important to debunk some of the most common myths surrounding pet dental health.

Dog and toothbrush in white background, concept of pets dental hygiene
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Myth #1: I don’t need to worry about my pet’s teeth

If dogs and cats can't brush their own teeth, then it probably means that they don't need to, right? Unfortunately, no. Not only should your pet's dental health be taken seriously, animals actually do have their own ways of keeping their teeth clean — they just don't involve a toothbrush and toothpaste. Dogs keep their teeth and gums healthy by chewing on objects like sticks, while cats steer clear of dental diseases naturally through chewing on raw meat and bones. Because most housepets are fed commercial and not raw diets, however, their dental health remedies should be adjusted with a little help from us, be that with regular brushing or dental exams. The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine states that up to 90% of cats over the age of four have some form of dental disease, many of which are preventable or curable with regular care.

Myth #2: Bad teeth only result in bad breath

One of the telltale signs of a dental issue in pets is smelly breath. If you don't particularly mind the bad odor in your pet's mouth, or think that bad breath is a minor symptom that's no cause for concern, you may be overlooking additional health issues. According to the AKC, untreated gum diseases like periodontitis can lead to bone damage around the affected teeth, and may even affect a dog's heart, liver, and kidneys. Of course, this is not to say that every pet with bad breath has other health problems, but it's always worth mentioning to your veterinarian if you've noticed an increasingly bad odor just in case.

Dog incubated in surgery room of veterinary clinic
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Myth #3: Dental chews are enough to keep my pet’s teeth healthy

Dental chews are chewable treats for dogs that not only serve as a special snack but also claim to "brush" their teeth through the simple act of eating one. Depending on the brand of chew, some dental sticks and chewy treats have been shown to reduce up to 70% of plaque, and make cleaning easy for anyone with a fussy dog or cat who doesn't exactly having a brush in his mouth. While chews are a great over-the-counter supplement between dental exams, it is still recommended that regular check-ups be kept to spot deeper issues, like abscesses or periodontitis. If you absolutely cannot brush your dog or cat's teeth then dental chews are certainly better than nothing and will not hurt, but just be sure to look out for brands approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council, as these have been proven effective.

Myth #4: Dry food brushes a cat’s teeth

This one is technically true — dry kibble pieces can sometimes reduce plaque on a cat's teeth thanks to their dry, gritty texture and small size. Using dry kibble alone as a method of dental care, however, can actually end up doing more harm than good over time. Feline Nutrition states that, while the size of kibble can conceivably remove buildup from teeth, most pieces are so small that cats end up swallowing them whole. Additionally, because most commercial cat food brands are made up of formulas high in carbohydrates, the sugars can adhere to the surface of the teeth and lead to tartar, which can result in gum disease if left untreated.

Beautiful fluffy cat sniffs crumbs on the floor. close-up
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Myth #5: My pet doesn’t need a professional cleaning

If you regularly brush your pet's teeth or supplement their diet with dental chews, there's a good chance that their teeth are in great shape. Some dog breeds, however, are genetically predisposed to have dental issues and may need professional intervention to ensure that their mouths are as healthy as possible. A professional dental cleaning can also hit areas that are hard to reach, like under the gumline, which cannot be reached with a regular toothbrush.

Myth #6: I can just use an old toothbrush and toothpaste of mine to clean my pet’s teeth

While there may be some truth in the other myths listed here, this one is an absolute hard no. Most human toothpaste contains xylitol, which can be harmful to pets when ingested. Furthermore, most dogs and cats would not prefer the taste of mint or cinnamon toothpaste, which is why pet products are flavored with pet-friendly ingredients, like chicken or peanut butter. Finally, some pet toothbrushes are designed to look similar to human toothbrushes, but because pet gums are sensitive the bristles found on human brushes may be a little too tough for comfort. Pets with smaller mouths, like small dogs and cats, can find the teeth brushing process much more enjoyable with a finger brush, which is also easier to control inside the mouth.