I consider one of the most important aspects of a nose to tail assessment during check-in for each pet is noting the condition of the pet’s teeth. Mind you, I do not just willy-nilly open up a pet’s mouth. I exercise caution and approach with care as any pet may pose a bite risk.

As a groomer, why should you care about that pet’s teeth? 

Three reasons that immediately come to mind are: an awareness of possible behavioral problems, establishing authority and compassion with your clients, and increasing your bottom line.

Awareness of Behavioral Problems

Think about how you feel when you have a toothache. Now imagine a pet living in that pain and then you touch their face to trim. This pet is going to protect him or herself and will pose a bite risk. As groomers, we need a heads up so that we may plan accordingly. Since smaller dogs are more prone to periodontal disease, it accounts for that higher percentage of smaller dogs that are apt to bite when their face is handled during grooming.

Establishing Authority & Compassion

Many owners simply do not understand that poor oral health is directly linked to liver, kidney, heart, and lung disease. That’s because bacteria from food remains enters the bloodstream through bleeding gums and travels throughout the body. Over time, it weakens the immune system impacting those organs. By educating clients on the importance of good dental hygiene they may be able to increase the life of their beloved pet. Many veterinary professionals estimate that increase in life expectancy can be as high as three to five years. And don’t forget to mention the savings in veterinarian bills if the pet is healthier.

Keep in mind that it may not be negligence on the part of the owner. This owner may not be aware of the consequences. Educate this client, do not ridicule or demean them. Show compassion in your approach.

Increase Your Bottom Line

This is twofold; longevity, as in an extra three to five years grooming this pet, as well and in retail sales. Most dental products are fairly small and do not take up much room even if you have limited retail space. Financially, it does not make sense to spend time talking about products and then sending your client to a retailer who then makes the sale.

Opening Up A Dialogue With A Client

During the nose to tail assessment is a good time to talk to your client regarding the signs of periodontal disease.

Signs a groomer may notice include: 

  • Flinching or pulling away from you
  • Quivering lips
  • Growling, snapping, or hissing
  • Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
  • Tartar
  • Visible root or bulge of crown of tooth
  • Open sores on face, jaw, or mouth
  • Ulcers in mouth
  • Bad breath

If you notice any of the above, ask the owner if they notice their pet is rubbing their face on the carpet, floor, or furniture. Does the pet seem to have difficulty eating, exhibits a loss of appetite, or begs more for the owner’s softer food? Is the pet sleeping more?

All of these signs point to periodontal disease.

What Is Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease develops over time in a series of stages when the build up of food particles and bacteria forms plaque along the gum line. Plaque is the milky white film, which develops on teeth everyday.

If plaque is not removed it combines with minerals in saliva to form tartar. Tartar is also called calculus. It only takes three to five days to change from plaque to tartar. Calculus irritates gum tissue and leads to gingivitis. Inflammation caused by gingivitis will work its way down the root canal, causing the tooth to loosen. Gingivitis will separate the gums from the teeth and form pockets that will harbor abscesses that lead to bone loss. This can be very painful.

The stages of periodontal disease are:

Stage 0: As it suggests, there is zero periodontal issues.

Stage 1: There is slight build up of tartar and reddened gums.

Stage 2: Tartar is thicker and gums are swollen. On x-ray, it would show slight bone loss. The gums will bleed if probed.

Stage 3: Moderate build up of tartar and gums are receding. X-ray will show increasing bone loss.

Stage 4: Tartar may encapsulate the teeth with deep pockets of gum loss, as well as loose teeth and risk
of abscesses.

How Can We Help Our Clients?

Let’s start with easy

  • Good quality dental treats that do not contain hidden sugars such as beet pulp, molasses, and fructose. The treat acts as friction to help remove plaque. I personally use raw bones, as well as chicken feet and necks. While I feel it is the superior method, not everyone is comfortable with raw bones.
  • Dental toys that either have raised nubs or strings. The nubs massage the gums, loosen plaque, and strengthen the muscles in the jaw. The string toys act as floss. Even if you have nothing more than a reception counter to act as retail, these toys do not take up a lot of space.

There are several brands of water additives that make it very easy for an owner to adhere to a dental plan for their pets. All they need to do is add it to their pet’s water bowl.

Moderate effort

  • Chlorohexidine Wipes: These wipes are treated with a solution of chlorohexidine that kills bacteria. The owner rubs the teeth with the wipe several times a week.
  • Dental Gels: The gel is rubbed on by the owner or applied with a system such as Plaq Clnz on the gum line three-four times a week.

Maximum effort

  • Daily Tooth Brushing: Caution the owner to use pet toothpaste. Human toothpaste contains detergents and fluoride that may cause gastric upset if swallowed by the pet.

There may be instances in which the periodontal disease is too advanced for the owner to rectify on their own. I direct such clients to a veterinarian professional of their choice to discuss available options for their pet.

Educating your clients on the importance of developing and maintaining a pet dental program benefits the pet owner with a pet that lives a longer, healthier life. And at the end of the day, isn’t that why we do what we do? I know I’ll appreciate that extra quality time with my clients.