Holly and Lucy, two 10 year old West Highland White Terriers who were suffering from halitosis.

When I examined their mouths, I could see that they were both suffering from the classical dental problem that commonly affects both dogs and humans: periodontal disease.

We humans are taught about dental care from a young age: we know that we need to brush our teeth regularly, and most of us aim to visit the dentist at least once a year to have our teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist.  The situation for pets is very similar, but for some reason, most pet owners don’t seem willing to accept this. Very few pets have their teeth brushed regularly, and dental check ups are rare if there isn’t an obvious problem.

Good dental health is important in itself: nobody likes to think about their pet having an uncomfortable mouth. But recent research has demonstrated that dental care has a much wider importance. A report in the newspapers this week had a worrying headline: “Not brushing your teeth can kill you”.  Researchers from Bristol University have established that a common bacteria responsible for tooth decay and gum disease in humans can break out into the bloodstream and help blood clots to form, leading to the risk of a heart attack. This news story is enough to make any human rush to the bathroom sink to give their teeth another quick scrub.

If the link between poor dental hygiene and bad health in humans is worrying, how much worse is it for animals? Animals often suffer from advanced dental disease that’s far more extreme than would ever been seen in humans. And researchers in the veterinary world have also made the link between dental problems and poor general health. If an animal’s teeth are not looked after properly, bacterial infections become established in the mouth. It’s been proven that when the animal is chewing, this infection is transferred from the mouth into the bloodstream. Bacteria can then settle into important organs such as the heart and kidneys, causing serious disease that can ultimately be life threatening.

It’s very easy to prevent dental problems in pets, and a visit to the vet for a check is the first stage.

Once I’d established that Holly and Lucy had periodontal disease, they were both booked in for a dental clean up at my clinic. They each had a general anaesthetic and the accumulation of tartar and infection on their teeth and gums was carefully removed. By the end of the procedure, their teeth were clean, polished and healthy.

Pauline has been instructed on after-care, which involves brushing the dogs’ teeth every weekday, as well as giving the dogs a daily dental chew stick. The new routine will take less than a minute for each dog, but it should keep their teeth healthy in the future, avoiding repeat visits to the vet for major dental clean ups.

Holly and Lucy may still not have “sweet” breath (they are dogs, after all), but it’s certainly far better now. Polly can now continue to smile if they happen to breathe in her direction when they’re on her lap.


  • Advanced dental disease is common in pets
  • If untreated, this can lead to disease elsewhere in the body
  • If you’re not sure about the condition of your pet’s teeth, ask your vet for advice

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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