We all know how to brush our teeth! But do our pets brush their teeth? Of course not! So, when was the last time your dog or cat brought up pet dental care or brushed their own teeth?
If you’ve ever missed a morning of brushing your teeth, then you know that fuzzy, grimy feeling you get – that’s plaque build-up on your teeth. Unless you are regularly brushing your cat or dog’s teeth, feeding a dental diet, giving dental treats, or using a water dental additive, your pet’s teeth also accumulate plaque. Over time, plaque becomes hard calculus on the teeth and can cause a number of pet dental diseases.
Types of Pet Dental Disease
Some common abnormalities a veterinarian may see in your pet’s mouth are:
- Calculus is a hard-layer coating on the tooth that harbors bacteria, can loosen the tooth, and can cause bone erosion.
- Periodontal disease is the destruction of bone and tooth attachment caused by bacteria in the mouth.
- Gingivitis is another sign of dental disease and indicates inflammation from bacteria at the gum line.
What’s important to know is that pet dental disease extends beyond the mouth since bacteria can spread to other vital organs such as the heart, kidneys, and liver.
If left untreated, these dental issues can pose serious health problems for your pet.
The good news is that these health issues are preventable! With regular home care and routine veterinary dental cleaning, you and your pet can avoid costly and painful health issues. Routine prophylactic cleaning is much less expensive than one with painful extractions! Is dental disease responsible for that weird smell?
How to Brush Pets’ Teeth
The most common way to clean your pet’s teeth is to brush their teeth just like you brush yours. Veterinary dentists recommend a minimum of brushing your pet’s teeth three times a week. Brushing your pet’s teeth may sound daunting, but with consistency and patience, it can be done! Have a cat? Learn how to effectively brush your cats teeth here!
Please note: never put yourself in danger of being bit by your pet! If you feel like brushing your pet’s teeth could endanger you, please consult a veterinarian.
Best Pet Toothbrush and Toothpaste
First, you need the tools to brush your pet’s teeth. Get a toothpaste that is designed for pets. I personally like the CET brand of pet toothpaste as it comes in pet-friendly flavors, like poultry or seafood.
Now to get a pet toothbrush. There are several pet-specific toothbrushes on the market, or if you can’t find a pet-specific angled toothbrush, you can use a soft baby toothbrush or a finger toothbrush which is a pet-specific soft brush that fits easily over your finger.
Brushing a Dog or Cat’s Teeth
Start by offering the toothbrush, with toothpaste on the brush, for your pet to smell and taste. Do this a few days in a row to let them get used to how the toothbrush smells and feels. After the initial toothbrush introduction, add in the motion of gently lifting their lips to look at their teeth.
Eventually, allow (and even encourage!) your pet to chew on the toothbrush. Chewing counts as a mechanical action and will help remove plaque on your pet’s teeth.
Remember to go slow and be patient with your pet. Keep it fun, too! While it is always best to start brushing your pet’s teeth while they are young, it is possible for older pets to acclimate to having their teeth brushed.
The optimum frequency is brushing your pet’s teeth 1 to 2 times a day.
Pet Dental Food and Treats
If you find you cannot brush your pet’s teeth, or that it will be a danger for you to try to acclimate your pet to tooth brushing, there are pet dental health alternatives. The Veterinary Oral Health Council has a list of approved pet dental products for dogs and cats.
Many of these products can be purchased easily through the Hello Ralphie online pharmacy.
What Happens at a Pet Dental Cleaning
If your pet has not had regular at-home dental care or a professional cleaning by your veterinarian, a true dental cleaning should be performed at your veterinarian’s office. Read “How often should you take your cat to the vet?” here!
The American Academy of Veterinary Dentists, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the American Animal Hospital Association, all recommend annual dental cleanings at a veterinarian’s office.
Since a pet dental must be done under anesthesia, bloodwork (an echocardiogram if your pet has a heart murmur) should be performed prior to the dental cleaning appointment to ensure your pet can safely receive the anesthesia.
During the dental cleaning, full-mouth x-rays taken as up to 60% of the tooth is under the gum line and cannot be seen. X-rays are vital since they allow veterinarians to see what is going on with the roots of the teeth and the bone that holds these teeth. Pocket depths are taken to see if there is gum or bone recession around the tooth, as well as ultrasonic scaling of the tooth to remove that calculus and plaque build-up.
After, the veterinarian polishes the teeth and gives a fluoride treatment to finish the dental cleaning. If your veterinarian finds teeth that are loose, have abscesses, resorptive lesions, fractures, or too much bone loss around a tooth, they may decide that the tooth should be removed.
In more serious circumstances, multi-rooted teeth need to be sectioned with a drill and removed. During a dental cleaning, your veterinarian may find oral masses or diseases of the gingiva as well. Sometimes, biopsies are taken if something abnormal is found.
One quick note, non-anesthetic dental cleanings are not condoned by most veterinarians or the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), as they are not safe or particularly effective in cleaning a pet’s teeth.
If your veterinarian mentioned dental tartar or disease at your pet’s check-up, ask them if it’s time for a prophylactic dental cleaning or if diligent dental home care will help.