Pet Dental Health: Something to Smile About

By Kathy Hosler

Adult dogs have forty two permanent teeth and cats have thirty. Those teeth are meant to last a lifetime. However, just like people, pets can develop dental problems. What does pet dental health have to do with grooming? Actually, more than you may think.

Dental disease is very common in the pets we groom. The majority of dogs and cats have some form of periodontal disease by the time they are three years old.

Pets with dental issues can be very difficult to groom. If they have painful mouths, they may be irritable and not allow you to work around their face or touch their mouth area when you want to work on their head.

Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums caused by a buildup of plaque along the gum line. If it is not removed, tartar begins to form. In time, the tartar builds up and advances under the gum line resulting in periodontal disease. Untreated, periodontal disease can cause receding or bleeding gums, bad breath, and infection or tooth abscesses. It can progress to the point where teeth fall out, and in some cases, results in bone loss to the degree that the jawbone itself can break. Can you imagine if that happened to a pet while it was in your care?

And, periodontal disease doesn’t just affect the pet’s mouth, it can also affect the heart and other organs of the body, and possibly shorten the pet’s life expectancy. Owners want to take good care of their pets, but some have no clue that their pet should be getting regular dental exams and care. They may complain that their pet has bad breath, but they don’t realize there is anything that they can or should do about it. Many of them have never even looked in their pet’s mouth.

Of course you are not a veterinarian, but you can show your client if their pet has tartar buildup on their teeth or if their gums are inflamed. Then you can recommend that they go to their veterinarian for a dental exam and cleaning.

We’ve all had pets come into our establishments with serious dental problems. If you feel uneasy about safely grooming a pet, refuse the groom and refer them to their veterinarian for treatment. Then, after the issues are resolved, reschedule the groom.

The groomer’s role in pet oral health is helping to educate owners and to provide them with the products and services that promote good dental health. Many groomers offer the add–on service of teeth brushing. If you do, that’s a great place to begin educating the owner about the importance of dental hygiene for their pet.

You probably see their pet multiple times per year on a regular basis. If you notice problems with their pet’s oral health, urge them to take it to their veterinarian for a complete dental evaluation. We all know that pet dental health is not a ‘one time cleaning and it’s good for life’ kind of thing. It’s really essential to educate and encourage all of your pet owners to establish a regimen of at–home oral care for their pets.

This is an opportunity for you to help them and their pets, and at the same time, to retail the products they will need: pet toothbrushes and toothpaste, water additive, breath sprays, dental toys and treats, etc. Ideally, you should introduce these products to your clients when their pets are young, before they have dental problems, or just after they have had a veterinary dental cleaning to keep their teeth sparkling and their gums healthy. But, routine oral care can be beneficial to a cat or dog whenever it begins.

First, owners need to have the right tools for the job. That’s where you can help. Show them the different types of soft bristle pet toothbrushes, finger brushes or gauze pads. Help them select the one that will be best for their pet. Additionally, sell them toothpaste that is formulated for pets which is often beef or chicken flavored. Tell them to never use their own toothpaste on their pets. Many human toothpastes have fluoride or xylitol in them which can be life threatening to pets if they consume it.

If you offer teeth brushing, you can show the owner the proper way to brush their pet’s teeth in–between visits to you. Teach them how to gently lift their pet’s lip and carefully clean the teeth. Patience and gentleness are the key to success in brushing. Some pets will not accept tooth brushing, but there are other ways to help prevent and eliminate dental plaque and tartar.

There are gels that can be applied to their pet’s gums. The action of the pet licking the gel will distribute it throughout the mouth and help loosen the accumulated debris. There are additives that can be placed in the pet’s water bowl that will also aid in plaque removal. And there are sprays that help remove plaque and freshen the breath.

Have a large display of dental treats and toys in your retail area. Rope toys promote a flossing action to clean the teeth. Other toys that encourage chewing help remove tartar and plaque from the teeth and gums. Pet parents love to give treats to their fur babies. If you sell them treats that their pets love and that also promote good dental health, they will happily purchase them every time they come to your facility.

You will certainly have something to smile about when your clients have pets with healthy, tartar–free, sweet–smelling mouths. As a bonus, you will increase your revenue by selling them products for at–home care, and you won’t have to deal with dogs and cats that have a mouth full of nasty teeth and horrible breath! ✂

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