* February is National Pet Dental Health Month *
We’ve all been educated since kindergarten how regular brushing and flossing makes a difference for our breath, for the health of our teeth, for reducing the likelihood of cavities and gum infections and dental pain, and quite simply for our overall well-being. But when it comes to our pets, we struggle to make a habit of brushing their teeth, even though daily routine dental care can provide the same health benefits for them as it does for us. And since our pets cannot brush their own teeth, we have to take the initiative to do it for them.
Just like people, pets can develop plaque, which leads to tartar buildup. First, a short lesson in dental terms: Plaque is the sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on your teeth. Plaque carries bacteria that can damage the enamel of teeth and lead to the development of cavities. If plaque is not removed regularly by brushing and flossing, it hardens to create calculus (also known as tartar). As tartar builds up, it can lead to gum erosion and gum infections. Calculus/tartar cannot be removed with a toothbrush. Only a dental professional/ veterinary dental technician can remove it during a teeth cleaning.
We see many more dental problems with smaller breeds of dogs, especially the toy breeds (Yorkies, Poodles, Chihuahuas, Malteses, Pomeranians, etc.). So it helps to be more pro-active in keeping their teeth brushed … if they will cooperate.
As pets age and mature, the years of plaque accumulation leads to tartar build-up. And often there are gum infections that can cause pain and discomfort. Our pets cannot tell us if they have sore or rotten or loose teeth. But particularly bad or rotten breath may indicate an infection involving one or more teeth. When this occurs, their appetite may fall off since it can be very painful to chew and eat.
When it comes to food, what can help? First, dry dog or cat kibble will not necessarily keep your dog’s teeth clean, unless you are using a dental diet such as Hill’s t/d. Raw diets with bits of ground bone mixed in can be useful. Recreational bones can be beneficial, but it’s best to avoid cooked bones as they tend to splinter much more easily, which can be dangerous to your dog. For chewable products for dogs, Ora-Vet Chews have proven to be beneficial. Rawhides can definitely be helpful, just be sure to use those made in North America … not Asia. PLEASE DO NOT RELY on Milk Bones or similar treats as they are worthless for keeping your pets’ teeth clean. And the fact that they add loads of empty calories makes them a source of unwanted weight gain.
For dental care with people, the gold standard remains BRUSHING on a regular basis. And for pets, too, it is the most effective way to keep their teeth clean. However, it does require cooperation on their part. Gradually introduce the motion of brushing on their teeth with your finger. adding some toothpaste for flavor.
For toothpaste, only use a toothpaste made for pets! Do NOT use human toothpaste as our pastes have fluoride
in them. Try poultry flavored (if your pet does not have a food allergy), or vanilla mint.
When you are ready to start using a toothbrush, be sure to use a soft-bristled brush. Many pet toothbrushes have small bristles on one end, and larger bristles on the other. You may find a rubber ‘finger-cot’ brush that you slip over your index finger to use for brushing. These are fine to start with to get your pet accustomed to brushing (sort of a ‘training brush’) but are useless for long-term use since the bristles are too rubbery and flimsy. And focus on the outside of your pet’s teeth as that’s where the real problems lie. The inside (or tongue-side) of the teeth do not get nearly as dirty or gunky.
Most folks who brush their pet’s teeth regularly are able to do it 5 to 7 times each week. At the very least, brush their teeth every other day to prevent plaque formation. If you are taking your dog to the groomer to have their teeth brushed once every 4 to 6 weeks, save your money. Brushing your pet’s teeth once every 4 to 6 weeks is totally useless.
Many pets need regular dental cleanings to keep their teeth healthy. You’ll find that some spay-neuter clinics now offer dental cleanings (but not comprehensive dental care such as extractions, etc. ) at a cost saving over many traditional veterinary hospitals.
While not always easy to accomplish, the reward of keeping your pet’ s teeth clean can make a huge difference in the
quality of their life. Give it a try, and let us see your pet’s sparkling smile!
– Dr. Bob Parrish/ Carolina Value Pet Care