How to Provide Pet Dental Care from Your Own Home
Dental care does not end with the prophylaxis. Within 24 hours, plaque has already started to form on the teeth, and the periodontal disease process starts over. This is where home care comes in. Imagine what would happen in your mouth if you never brushed your teeth ó all the cleanings in the world wouldnít keep your mouth healthy.
Dental disease is the number one diagnosed disease in our patients, more than skin allergies, ear problems, lameness, and so on. In animals over 6 years of age, it is even more common. You may say, ďIíve had pets all my life, and no one has told me about this before.Ē There are a few reasons for that. First, our pets, like us, are living longer, which allows the bacteria in the plaque to work longer and cause more disease. Second, many purebred dogs and cats are predisposed to dental disease. Finally, in the not-too-distant past, we as veterinarians did not know that this caused a problem in our patients. For these reasons, you likely did not appreciate the importance of oral health in our animal friends.
The ďGold StandardĒ of home care is tooth brushing. This is the most effective means of controlling plaque and the associated diseases that affect both our patients as well as us. The following is a guide to begin brushing your petís teeth.
The sooner you start your pet on oral health care, the easier it will be to do. We recommend that all pets have their mouths handled from a young age (as young as possible) to get them used to it. You can start brushing their teeth as young as 2Ė3 months of age, but it really isnít necessary until they are about 5 months. This is when they have most of their adult teeth in.
Donít push the procedure on your pet. Make the experience as positive as possible. If you force this on your pet, he or she will resent it, and the brushing will probably not happen. Start with simply handling the mouth for a short period. Then get your fingers in the mouth and even try to open it. Start by wiping the outside surface of the teeth with a soft cloth wrapped around your finger. Finally, introduce the brush. These steps may take weeks to accomplish, but it WILL be worth it. Start with a few teeth, and then slowly progress to the entire mouth as your pet gets more comfortable and allows you to brush without much resistance.
Make it Fun
If you link this behavior to positive things such as walks, playtime, and especially FOOD (either dinner or a favorite treat), you will greatly increase the likelihood of patient acceptance. This will take a while, but again, it WILL be worth it.
All you need to get started is a toothbrush. There are various brushes designed for pets. Buy one appropriately sized for your petís mouth. If you prefer, a soft childís toothbrush will also work well. There are many options for toothpaste. However, you CANNOT use human toothpaste, because it contains ingredients that can make your pet sick if swallowed (and it will be swallowed). There are numerous veterinary products available, and they come in various flavors such as chicken, seafood, and beef.
Use a circular motion with the brush at a 45-degree angle to the gum line. Use a small amount of veterinary toothpaste, but replace it often. Brush all of your petís teeth in succession. For the rear teeth, you can usually just place the brush in under the lips. The rear lower teeth present a small problem since the upper teeth cover them. If your pet is very good, you can try to open his or her mouth slightly (1/2Ē or so) by placing a finger between the jaws in the area just behind the upper canine. There are only a few very small teeth in this area. The insides of the teeth are a little bit tricky. Most patients will not accept brushing this area. Try to open the mouth slightly and brush the inside of the teeth. If you canít do it, itís OK, as most periodontal disease occurs on the outside surface of the teeth. One exception to this is on the inside surface of the upper canines in small breed dogs (especially dachshunds, Yorkshire terriers, Maltese, and poodles). They are prone to periodontal disease in this area.
Once a day would be ideal, but for most owners this is unrealistic. It has been reported that if you brush your petís teeth three times a week, you will reduce plaque by 90%, and if you can only manage once a week, you will reduce it by 75%. We ask most clients to try for three days a week, unless we are treating periodontal disease.
What to Look For
Just like you, even though brushing greatly improves periodontal health, it does not completely eliminate the need for professional cleanings. However, it should decrease the frequency necessary to maintain oral health. When you brush your petís teeth, you can catch potential problems early. If you start seeing blood on the toothbrush, this means that there is some periodontal disease starting and your pet is due for a cleaning. If you start seeing tan or brown buildup on the teeth, this is calculus and, again, your pet is likely due for a cleaning.
If you notice any loose teeth, swellings, growths, broken teeth, or anything else that you donít like, it is time to visit your veterinarian for an evaluation. In addition, if a pet that is normally tolerant of brushing stops allowing it, it may be a sign of oral pain, and you should see your veterinarian for an evaluation. Regardless, an oral exam should be part of an annual physical exam performed regularly by your veterinarian.
If your pet just wonít allow brushing, or if you donít have time, there are some other methods. There are special foods available that will help clean the teeth. Hills T/D is a food available through veterinarians. It comes in a cat form, as well as two sizes for dogs. This is balanced enough to be the sole food for your pet as long as your pet has no other health problems that require a special diet. It can also be used as part of your petís food or even as a treat. In addition, there are various tartar control chews and biscuits that have varying levels of effectiveness. Avoid hard treats such as real bones and hooves, which can break teeth.
Oravet Gel is a plaque prevention barrier that is first applied as the last step of a professional cleaning. The gel provides a barrier film on the teeth that prevents plaque from building up on the teeth. At home, the product is easily applied once weekly to maintain this barrier. For a video demonstration of how to use the gel, visit the companyís website at www.oravet.us.merial.com.