, Newburyport, MA

February 8, 2013

Paw Prints: Tooth tips that will make Fido smile

Paw Prints Heidi Bassler, , veterinarian
Newburyport Daily News

---- — February is a good time to admire your dog’s and cat’s pearly whites and rosy breath. Pets have teeth that need to be cared for, just as their owners do. To increase this awareness, February is Pet Dental Health Month.

Have you looked in your pet’s mouth? Do Fido’s and Fluffy’s gums and teeth look like yours? Is their breath pleasant and fresh? If you answered “no” to these questions, then read on. Here’s my Top 10 tooth tips and trivia:

1. How many teeth should your pet have?

This isn’t a pop quiz, so it’s OK to cheat and lift up your pet’s lip. Cats should have 30 teeth and dogs should have 42. Pets can have missing or extra teeth, and each can cause serious dental problems. Ask your veterinarian to count your pet’s teeth. This can be done during an outpatient exam.

2. Do cats and dogs have baby teeth?

Yes, our little pets have baby teeth. Those are the sharp, needle-like teeth that you feel when your puppy is gnawing on your toes. Baby teeth start falling out at 4 months of age. By 6 months, all of the adult teeth have erupted. This two-month period is an amazingly busy time for our pets’ mouths.

3. Do dogs and cats need braces?

Generally, no, although they can have abnormal bites. Abnormal bites are not just beauty issues. They cause chronic pain and infection.

Pugs, bulldogs and other short-nosed dogs are bred to have underbites. Persian cats can have this problem, too. Other breeds, such as German shepherds, are prone to overbites. Base narrow is another problem, when the lower fangs are deviated inwards. These pets can have oral ulcers and chronic pain from continually chomping down on their gums. Ouch.

The good news is that your pet doesn’t have to suffer in silence. If your veterinarian identifies this problem at the right age, inexpensive chew toys may correct the problem. For older pets, surgery can fix the painful bite.

4. Do only dogs have canine teeth?

Canine teeth are fang teeth. Dogs, cats and other mammals have these teeth. Even people have canine teeth.

Canine teeth are incredibly long. We see about one-third of the whole tooth. The root is much longer, deep in the jaw. If your pet ever needs his canine tooth extracted, it’s not a simple “pull and pluck” procedure. This needs to be done properly so root fragments don’t remain.

5. Is periodontal disease common in pets?

Absolutely. Almost 80 percent of cats and dogs have periodontal disease by age 3. It causes the same problems in pets as it does in people — painful mouth, bad breath, loose teeth and systemic infections.

6. Can pets’ teeth be brushed?

Indeed, they can. Daily brushing is ideal. Ask your veterinary team to teach you how to do so. Be sure to use toothpaste made for pets. It comes in yummy flavors such as seafood, poultry and beef.

7. Do pets need regular dental check-ups?

Pets have teeth, too. And they need those teeth checked regularly, just like people do. Professional pet dental care involves cleaning, polishing, fluoride application, dental X-rays and an oral exam by a dental-trained veterinarian. This allows painful teeth, mouth infections and oral tumors to be identified and addressed.

8. Do pets get cavities?

Cavities are rare in pets. However, other painful tooth conditions are common. Cats are susceptible to resorptive lesions. First enamel wears away, and eventually the living pulp nerve tissue is exposed. This is excruciatingly painful. Resorptive lesions occur in about 50 percent of cats. Dogs can have bad habits, such as chewing on bones, which cause tooth fractures. Broken teeth are painful and can become infected.

9. My pet is eating, so how can his mouth be in pain?

Cats and dogs have a nervous system like ours. They feel pain like we do.

Pets don’t talk, and they don’t write messages to tell us something is wrong. Pets also don’t know that they can go to the dentist to have their painful mouth addressed. However, their instinct to eat is strong, and they know instinctively that they will die if they do not eat.

A pet will not stop eating from a painful mouth unless the pain is so severe that he would rather not live.

10. Our grandparents never worried about their pets’ teeth, so why are we concerned now?

One hundred years ago, 50 percent of adults were toothless. Today, only 10 percent are.

With modern medicine comes advancements in healthy lifestyles and preventive care. Dentistry is a rapidly evolving area of medical care because it affects overall health and well-being from heart disease to quality of life. Our pets are no different.

Fido and Fluffy would love to show you their sparkling smile on Valentine’s Day. And with smooches sure to be delivered, fresh breath is a bonus, too.


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