Dental disease is the #1 illness in pets that owners and veterinarians are fighting. What may seem small to some can actually turn into some pretty big issues (such as heart, kidney, liver, and joint disease). We’ve answered one of the biggest questions already: Why Does My Pet’s Breath Stink?, but in order to keep those pearly whites…well… pearly, you need to be proactive! In celebration of Pet Dental Health Month, here are great tips for brushing your pet’s teeth at home and why dental cleanings with your vet are so important!
Dental Cleanings at Your Veterinarian’s Office:
Because it’s so important to keep your pet’s mouth clean, consider starting fresh with a cleaning at your vet’s office. They will be your pet’s personal hygienist, and a big part of the team that helps Fluffy live as long and as happily as he can. Not only can they clean off the hard plaque that has already formed, but Fluffy’s teeth will be polished, bacteria cleaned from under the gums, and x-rays taken to make sure there isn’t an abscess, bone, or tooth loss. Once Fluffy’s teeth are pearly white again, cleaning at home will help keep them that way!
Look to your vet for advice on at-home care, safe products to use at home, and tooth brushing techniques. A veterinary exam before you start brushing at home may be helpful (just in case your dog’s gums are inflamed). If your dog has mild gingivitis, brushing too hard can hurt her gums.
A dental cleaning with your vet includes:
- Removal of visible plaque and tartar from the teeth
- Elimination of plaque and tartar from under the gum
- Probing of dental sockets to assess dental disease
- Polishing to smooth enamel scratches that may attract bacteria
- Dental radiographs (X-rays) to evaluate problems below the gumline
- Application of fluoride or a dental sealer
- Removal or repair of fractured or infected teeth
- Dental charting so progression of dental disease can be monitored over time
- Inspection of the lips, tongue, and entire mouth for growths, wounds, or other problems
The Truth About Anesthesia Dental Cleanings
There are so many drawbacks to skipping out on anesthesia for your pet’s dental cleanings. Our friends over at the Drake Center for Veterinary Care put together a great list HERE. Ultimately, you wouldn’t go to a salon for your dental care, so why would you bring your pet?
How to Start Brushing at Home
The best time to start a tooth-brushing regimen is now! Even though adult teeth come in when your pet is about 6-9 months old, getting puppies and kittens used to the brushing process is important.
Get yourself a toothbrush made especially for dogs or a clean piece of soft gauze to wrap around your finger. Ask your vet for a toothpaste made especially for pets. Avoid dental products containing Xylitol, as it is highly toxic to dogs and questionable to cats. Also, do not use human toothpaste, which can irritate a dog’s stomach. Here’s a nifty kit with everything included.
Brightening the Pearly Whites
Taking these steps will make brushing a lot easier for the both of you:
- First get your dog used to the idea of having her teeth brushed. Massage her lips with your finger in a circular motion for 30 to 60 seconds once or twice a day for a few weeks. Then move on to her teeth and gums.
- When your pup seems comfortable being touched this way, put a little bit of dog-formulated toothpaste on her lips to get her used to the taste.
- Next, introduce a toothbrush designed especially for dogs—it should be smaller than a human toothbrush and have softer bristles. Toothbrushes that you can wear over your finger (or a clean piece of gauze) are also available and allow you to give a nice massage to your dog’s gums.
- Finally, apply the toothpaste to her teeth for a gentle brushing.
Teeth Brushing Technique
Yes, there is actually a technique! Place the brush or your gauze-wrapped finger at a 45-degree angle to the teeth and clean in small, circular motions. Work on one area of your dog’s mouth at a time, lifting her lip as necessary. The side of the tooth that touches the cheek usually has the most tartar, and giving a final downward stroke can help to remove it. If your dog resists having the inner surfaces of her teeth cleaned, don’t fight it—only a small amount of tartar accumulates there. Once you get the technique down, go for a brushing two or three times a week.
Chew on This:
- Chew toys can satisfy your dog’s natural desire to chomp, while making his teeth strong. Gnawing on a chew toy can also help massage his gums and help keep his teeth clean by scraping away soft tartar. Look for toxin-free rawhide, nylon and rubber chew toys.
- Gnawing also reduces your dog’s overall stress level, prevents boredom and gives him an appropriate outlet for his natural need to chew.
- Ask your vet about a specially formulated dry food that can slow down the formation of plaque and tartar.
- Lastly, avoid feeding your dog table scraps, instead giving him treats that are specially formulated to keep canine teeth healthy.