Routine Dental Care
Today I wanted to touch on routine and at-home dental care. I have found when most pet-parents are asked if they brush their dogs’ teeth the answer is usually something like “probably not as much as I should”, and for cats more like “(s)he would NOT let me do that!”. Although it can be challenging to remember to implement home dental care and train our pets to accept it, this is very important for their dental and overall health.
The majority of pets do have some form of periodontal disease by the time they reach 3 years of age. Periodontal disease has four stages and starts with gingivitis, which can be reversible with diligent home care, but can progress to irreversible degradation of the bone that attaches and supports the teeth. With severe dental disease bacteria that are present can move through the bloodstream leading to infection in organs such as the heart and kidneys.
The pictures below show the progression from healthy mouth (on the left) to gingivitis and dental tartar (the first stage of periodontal disease) to severe attachment loss of teeth (the third stage of periodontal disease).
Tooth brushing is the staple of at-home dental care for pets. Brushing should ideally be done daily to improve dental disease and at least three times weekly to maintain good dental health. Select a soft-bristled toothbrush that is made for pets or a child’s toothbrush may work in many cases. Never use toothpaste made for humans, as these have foaming agents that should not be swallowed in large quantities. Select a pet toothpaste in a flavor you think your pet would enjoy. Flavors range from chicken to seafood to mint.
It is often easiest to start brushing in young dogs, but even older dogs will accept the process with if you give them time to adjust to your new activity. Start slowly, ideally when your pet is in a calm, relaxed mood (possibly the end of the day) by handling his or her muzzle and giving lots of praise and some treats while doing this. Next, try to touch the outer surfaces (never put your fingers between the teeth!) of your pets’ teeth and gums. Try placing some peanut butter or flavored pet toothpaste on your finger while you do this and start with just the teeth in the front, working your way to the back. After this you may start using a piece of gauze or washcloth to rub on the outer surfaces of the teeth, again, with the treat or toothpaste on it. Finally, you may graduate to use of the toothbrush itself. The photo below shows the technique you may use to hold the lips and how to angle your toothbrush at a 45 degree angle for brushing. Notice; only the outer surfaces of the teeth need to be brushed.
Sessions may be short at first, but with practice your pet should allow you to brush all his or her teeth each day. Feel free to reward them with their favorite treat after each session!
Other products such as dental chews, water additives, and dental diets can be beneficial in maintaining dental health, but are generally not a substitute for brushing. Products that have been proven to be effective for pets can be found at the Veterinary Oral Health Council website; www.vohc.org. A couple of products I like to use with my dog are Greenies Dental Chews and Brushing Chews. Make sure to choose the appropriate size chew for your dog, supervise your dog while chewing, and take chews away if you think your dog may swallow large pieces which could result in an esophageal obstruction.
For pets that do not accept tooth brushing and even for some of those that do allow at-home brushing routine professional cleaning will be necessary. A professional cleaning is done after your pet has been determined to be healthy enough to undergo general anesthesia. Having the pet under general anesthesia allows us to perform the most thorough cleaning in the safest manner. During the procedure teeth are probed to evaluate periodontal health, tartar is removed from above and below the gumline, enamel is polished, a sealant is applied, and radiographs are taken of any teeth that do not appear healthy. Sometimes tooth extractions may be recommended if periodontal disease is advanced. It is always important to resume or start your home care within a week or two after a professional cleaning (depending on whether any extractions were performed)!
I hope this information is helpful in explaining the importance of routine dental care and giving you the confidence that you and your pet can successfully start this at home!
Robin Bohaty, DVM
Roscoe Village Animal Hospital serves the veterinary needs of animals in Chicago’s Lakeview, Lincoln Park, North Center, Wicker Park, Uptown , West Loop, Logan Square and Bucktown neighborhoods.