, Newburyport, MA

February 14, 2014

Paw Prints: A dental pop quiz

Paw Prints, Heidi Bassler

---- — Have you ever wondered why Fluffy’s mouth smells fishy? Or why Fido’s breath stinks? It’s probably dental disease.

That’s right. Pets have teeth, too. February is National Pet Dental Health Month. It’s a time to increase our awareness of everything that goes on in our pets’ mouths.

Just think about it. We brush and floss daily. We see our dentist every six months. Even more often, if something in our mouth hurts.

It’s easy to forget our furry friends’ pearly whites. After all, they don’t ask for their toothbrushes or point their little paws at sore teeth.

In the spirit of National Pet Dental Health Month, let’s have some fun with the following pop quiz. Answer true or false, and grade yourself at the end.

1. Puppies and kittens have one set of baby teeth before their adult teeth come in.

True. Puppies and kittens are born without teeth. Their baby teeth erupt at 1 month of age. Just three months later, their adult teeth begin to replace them.

2. If a pet is eating, his mouth doesn’t hurt.

False. This is a common misconception. Animals will eat despite significant oral pain. The drive to eat is incredibly strong and is tied to survival instinct. Pets do not know that something can be done to fix their painful mouths. So they will continue eating, until the pain is so severe that they would rather face starvation.

3. Giving a dog bones to chew will help keep his mouth healthy.

False. Bones are the No. 1 cause of fractured teeth in pets. Unless you are prepared for Fido to have multiple root canals or tooth extractions, keep bones away from him.

Some people believe they should give their dog bones because wild canines eat bones. Indeed, wild wolves do eat bones. But they also suffer from fractured, abscessed, painful teeth. And their typical life span is short, compared with that of our pet dogs.

4. Fractured teeth are cause for concern.

True. This is true for humans and animals alike. Fractured teeth are painful and often become infected. Abscesses can slowly explode the jawbone and rupture through the side of your pet’s face. Some infections cause oronasal fistulas, or draining tracts into the nasal cavity. Others infect the blood, allowing bacteria to lodge elsewhere in the body. Kidneys and heart valves are common destinations.

Tooth abscesses can cause significant illness and death in other animals, too. One memorable example is that of the magnificent sperm whale skeleton at Nantucket’s Whaling Museum. If you ever have the opportunity, look closely into its mouth. You will see a hole in the jawbone caused by a root abscess from a fractured tooth. It is believed this massive creature succumbed to blood poisoning from the tooth infection.

5. Bad breath is normal in older pets.

False. If your pet’s breath is offensive, there’s a problem. Odds are, your furry friend has periodontal disease. As with their human counterparts, periodontitis in pets causes infection and halitosis. The damage is progressive and generally irreversible. However, prompt professional and home dental care can halt or slow this disease.

6. Short-nosed dogs, such as pugs or bulldogs, have flat noses and long lower jaws. That’s normal for their breed; it’s not a problem.

False — sort of. Yes, bulldogs are bred to have an underbite. This is, however, unnatural for Mother Nature. Fido might be in pain if his abnormally placed teeth are chomping down on gum tissue. The abnormal bite also leads to a more rapid development of periodontal disease.

7. Pets should never have their teeth cleaned at the grooming appointment.

True. For the same reasons that you wouldn’t have your barber or hairdresser clean your teeth, a groomer shouldn’t clean Fido’s. They simply are not trained in veterinary dental medicine.

8. Some dogs’ tongues always stick out. That’s not a concern.

False. Have Fido’s mouth carefully checked by your veterinarian. Fido might be sticking his tongue out because of a jaw problem. Some dogs place their tongue between their teeth to cushion a painful area when their mouth closes.

9. No one talked about periodontal disease in pets years ago, so it’s not important now.

False. Dentistry is a rapidly evolving area of medical care. It affects overall health and well-being, from heart disease to quality of life. We are more aware of dental health in humans and animals than we were years ago.

10. Red gums in pets is a sign of disease.

True. Usually, the first sign of periodontal disease in pets is red gums. By age 3, almost 80 percent of cats and dogs have periodontal disease.

Talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s dental care. Fresh breath and a happy, healthy smile are a terrific Valentine’s gift.


Dr. Heidi Bassler practices at Bassler Veterinary Hospital ( at Crossroads Plaza in Salisbury. She hosts a radio show, “Your Pet’s Health,” every Sunday morning at 8:30 on WNBP 106.1 FM and 1450 AM. Do you have questions for Dr. Bassler? Send them to