THE BLOG

Seven Dental Myths for Pets

02/20/2014 10:54 am ET | Updated Apr 22, 2014

I thought it would be fun to recognize February Pet Dental Health Month with seven of my favorite dental myths.

Myth 1: When it comes to dental health, dry food is definitely better than canned food for your pet.

For cats, this statement is false. In general, dry is not better for your cat's oral health when compared to canned cat food. Most dry cat food offers no significant chewing resistance due to its small size and brittle nature. When the cat's teeth come in contact with the dry pellet, the food shatters before the tooth penetrates it, losing any of its abrasive action benefit. In fact, as carnivores, cats frequently swallow their dry food whole. There are some dry food exceptions, like Hill's Prescription Diet Feline T/d and Purina Veterinary Diet Dental Health Feline Formula. For a more comprehensive list of tarter and plaque reducing diets and treats, see Veterinary Oral Health Council's website.

For dogs, in general, feeding dry food may be slightly better than canned food with regards to plaque and buildup. Compared to dry food, moist food can become more easily trapped in the crevices around your pet's teeth and may provide a substrate for bacterial growth. Wild dogs that eat fresh meat and small bones may have slightly reduced tarter to that of domesticated pets who eat dry food only, but they have equivalent periodontal disease. There are some dry dog foods that are definitely better for your pet's teeth, like Prescription Diet Canine T/d and Purina Dental Health for Canines.

In general, the texture of your pet's food does not make a dramatic difference in tarter and calculus build up. What does make a difference, is brushing your pets teeth daily and chewing on specially formulated chew toys or treats.

Myth 2: Animal Bones are good for your pet's teeth.

False. Animal bones are extremely hard and can fracture your pet's teeth. Please read my earlier Huffington Post, "Don't Give a Dog a Bone," for more information.

Myth 3: All fractured teeth need to be extracted.

False. If a tooth is fractured and the pulp cavity is not exposed, the tooth may be saved. This is called an uncomplicated tooth fracture, and the fractured crown surface can be smoothed and treated with a dental bonding agent. A dental bond seals the pores of the crown, minimizes bacteria from adhering to its surface, and decreases your pet's dental pain. A complicated tooth fracture is when the crown is fractured and the pulp cavity is exposed. If your veterinarian identifies a complicated tooth fracture, the tooth may be saved if the root structures beneath the gum are healthy. A dental specialist can perform a root canal to preserve the integrity of this complicated fractured tooth. Unfortunately, if the root structures are unhealthy, the fractured tooth must be extracted.

Myth 4: Baking soda and human toothpaste can be used to brush your pet's teeth.

False. Pets do not know how to rinse after brushing. Baking soda is too high in salt, and human toothpaste is too high in fluoride, to be ingested. Both these products can be irritating to your pet's gastrointestinal tract when swallowed.

At Animal Medical Center of Chicago, we recommend veterinary approved pet toothpaste that is malt, vanilla or poultry flavored that most pets seem to enjoy. For a tooth brushing demonstration watch my associate, Dr. Timothy England clean his dog's Gladys' teeth.

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

Absolutely false. Anesthesia free dentistry is dangerous to your pet's health. 70 percent of the pathology in your pet's oral cavity is beneath the gum line and will be missed without evaluation. A thorough oral evaluation, which may include dental radiography, can only be performed in an anesthetized animal. Restraining the pet for a potential painful dental cleaning procedure and probing is inhumane and should never be tolerated by any pet owner.

Anesthesia has its risks, but with a comprehensive pre-anesthetic evaluation and a skilled anesthetic team by your pet's side, your pet's anesthetic risks are negligible.

Myth 6: Dogs can give strep throat to adults and children.

False. People with strep throat are infected with Group A Streptococcus bacteria. Dogs and cats are not natural reservoirs for this group and species of bacteria. Dogs and cats are natural reservoirs for Group G Streptococcus canis, and it can be found on their skin, in the pharynx and upper respiratory tract. So, don't blame your pet for your sore throat.

Myth 7: Dogs and cats with dental pain will not eat.

False. Pets have a very strong survival instinct. They will continue to eat despite being in substantial pain. In fact, last year a client dropped her dog off for what she thought was going to be a routine dental cleaning appointment until we discovered during our pre-anesthetic examination that her pet had a fractured jaw. The dog's mandible was fractured secondary to an abscessed tooth. When I contacted the owner to discuss my findings, the owner was in shock. She reported that her terrier showed no sign of dental pain, ate dry food only and chewed a rawhide the previous night.

Honor this February's dental month by giving your pet a new toothbrush and pet toothpaste. Brush you pet's teeth and gums daily to reduce tarter, plaque and periodontal disease. At least once a year have your pet's teeth evaluated by your veterinarian. A clean mouth is a healthy mouth.

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Dr. Donna Solomon is a veterinarian at Animal Medical Center of Chicago and invites you to email her your questions or future topic ideas to doctors@animalmedicalcenterofchicago.com.