Make It A New Years Resolution to Keep Your Pet's Teeth Healthy!
Why should you brush your pet’s teeth?
Dental disease is one of the most common, if not the most common, preventable diseases that we see in domestic pets. Every time your pet has a meal, a film of residue is left on the teeth. Over time, these layers compound upon each other to become one thick, hard layer called plaque and calculus. Calculus covers the surface of the tooth allowing bacteria and inflammation to set in, which leads to infection, decay and ultimately painful tooth and bone loss. Once infection sets in, bacteria can enter the blood stream and spread to other parts of the body, causing potentially life-threatening disease in critical organs such as the kidneys, liver and heart. So keeping your pet’s teeth healthy can actually prolong your pet’s life!
How to brush your pet’s teeth.
Setting a regular time/day to do this will create a routine and can help make it an easier task to accomplish. I am often asked “How often should I brush my pet’s teeth?” My answer is always: how often does your pet eat? Meaning, the ideal situation would be to brush your pet’s teeth twice a day, just as your dentist has you do for yourself. But of course, for many people that is not practical nor possible. So the next best this is to try for daily, or at least a few times a week. In this case, something is certainly better than nothing!
Tools of the Trade.
Buy a dog-specific toothbrush with a longer handle; this makes it much easier to reach the molars all the way in the back of the mouth. If you don’t have a dog-specific tooth brush, a child’s soft bristled toothbrush will do. Also, thimble style finger brushes are available that work well for cats and smaller dogs. Use pet toothpaste, never use human toothpaste. Pets cannot spit, and human toothpastes contain products that can upset your pet’s stomach. Pet toothpastes are safe for their tummy, and there are multiple flavors (hamburger, chicken, peanut butter and more!) available that will make it a treat for your pet!
Get Your Pet Used to the Idea.
If you come at your pet with a toothbrush in hand and try to brush her teeth on day one, she will surely fight you and think you have lost your mind! Like any new idea, you have to ‘train’ your pet to accept the idea. Start on day one by introducing her to the toothpaste. Select a flavor she will enjoy and use the toothpaste as a treat. After a few days, begin to give her the treat on the end of the tooth brush. Test her gum sensitivity by rubbing your fingers along her gumline. If she accepts that, try doing it lightly with the toothbrush. Extend the time a little each day, eventually adding the toothpaste in over time. With time and patience, you will eventually be able to run the brush along her gums and teeth. Rarely is it possible to perform the up and down motion that we achieve with our teeth brushing, so try a circular motion instead. And if you are only able to run the brush back and forth along her teeth, you are still breaking up the film layer on her teeth and will slow the tartar accumulation. Remember that “something is better than nothing” is a valid option here, especially if your pet is a handful! One suggestion that may help to calm your pet is to lay her pet down on her back between your legs, with her head in your lap. This can sometimes have a calming effect, and will also give you easier access to her mouth.
As you brush, you may notice some slight blood, and that is ok. But if it happens often, you may want to consider consulting your veterinarian as this may be a sign of gum disease.
Regular professional cleanings.
Regular full anesthetic cleanings are necessary. Over time, regardless of how often you brush your pet’s teeth, there will be plaque that develops under the gumline. Anesthetic cleanings are designed to allow the removal of this deeper plaque. Consult with your veterinary professional as to how often your pet needs these services. If you absolutely cannot brush your pet’s teeth, your veterinarian may offer ‘non-anesthetic’ cleanings, which are not meant to replace the deeper anesthetic cleanings, but can be used to complement those cleanings, and may even help extend the time needed between the deeper cleanings.
Nowadays there are several great products available that help combat plaque and tartar buildup. “Greenies” are treats that are designed to slow tartar accumulation; water additives are available, you add the product to your pet’s drinking water to prevent tartar buildup; Dental chews are designed to ‘scrub’ teeth and help lessen plaque issues; Prescription diets – there are a few diets available through your veterinarian’s office that are specifically designed to prevent tartar and plaque accumulation.
Look at this as an opportunity to spend some “quality time” with your pet! You may not see immediate benefits, but trust that in the long run your pet’s health will benefit from the time you spend taking care of her teeth!