Dental disease is by far one of the most common diseases that affect dogs and cats and the most common thing that parents will identify as part of dental disease is bad breath (halitosis) coming from the mouth of their pup or kitty. However, dental disease involves much more than that, including gingivitis, plaque, tartar, tooth root exposure, abscesses, oral pain, wiggly teeth, bone loss around teeth sockets, and even jaw fractures!
Just like with ourselves, there are techniques for daily dental care at home that we can use with our pets to help prevent the worst parts of dental disease. In order to help us with choosing the best pet dental products, we have the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council), which is the veterinary version of the American Dental Association. I recommend visiting their website (www.vohc.org), where you will find a list of products approved for oral care for dogs and cats. From their list, start with one product at a time and slowly add to your pet’s daily routine until you are able to brush their teeth, give them dental treats, and use water/food additives altogether. The gold standard for daily pet dental care will continue to be brushing our pet’s teeth, but needless to say, this is easier said than done lol. I promise that if you approach it little by little though, it can be done!
From the VOHC list, choose a toothpaste and start by offering just a small portion of toothpaste to your pet as a treat every day. Once your baby likes the taste of it, then start touching a few of your baby’s teeth with the toothpaste on your finger once daily, for about a week or so. Slowly continue to touch more and more teeth until you can touch almost all teeth! During this process, your pet will likely try to lick the toothpaste at all times and that is OK ;). Once you have finished this step, you can incorporate the toothbrush and start all over again, little by little. Here is a hint: you do not have to open their mouths at all when brushing teeth, as the inside of their teeth does not need to be brushed as much as the outside aspect (the side facing the cheeks), but do brush them all the way to the back of their mouths. Make sure to take it slow and associate this process with a good experience, as we want this to be a lifelong addition to the care and well being of our kiddos.
If your baby will not let you touch their teeth, don’t give up! These pet toothpastes have enzymes that help break down the plaque, so even if you cannot physically brush their teeth, giving the toothpaste as a treat will still help break down some of the plaque. It is important to note that plaque and tartar are different things. Plaque is that white/clear/light yellow, soft film on the teeth and tartar is what the plaque turns into once it solidifies or mineralizes.
Once the plaque has turned into tartar, only a professional dental cleaning can remove it. These cleanings are usually performed once yearly and under anesthesia, as our pets need to be still in order for a proper cleaning to be performed, plus we need to avoid water from the dental cleaning going down the trachea! However, some dogs and cats may need dental cleanings more frequently while some pets may not be good candidates for anesthetic procedures. I also want to point out that our more mature babies can be fragile and we need to be cautious with their anesthetic procedures, if they were to be performed. These concerns and decisions can be addressed when we perform an oral exam and have a detailed conversation, setting up expectations and also discussing the different options with pros and cons.
You may have heard of non-anesthetic dental cleanings, which are usually performed by non medical people. Please be aware that while they may seem like a great option to avoid anesthesia, they do not go underneath the gum line to remove an important source of bacterial infection. This means the teeth may look better, but are actually not better, plus the main issues are just being masked.
Please feel free to call our office and ask for a dental exam for your pet. We will perform a thorough exam on your baby and then discuss the details with you and whether a dental cleaning may be recommended or not. We hope you will be able to visit us and have us help you with taking care of your kiddo’s oral health.