“Why does my pet need dental care?”
By Erin Miner


Like humans, animals are susceptible to plaque, tartar, calculus, and bacteria in their mouths! Brushing your pets teeth daily is not only beneficial for the tooth structure, but for the animals overall health. When plaque, tartar and calculus build up on the teeth and under the gum line, bacteria in the mouth enter into the bloodstream, heart, lung and kidneys, creating health problems. “According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, by age 3, 80 percent of dogs show evidence of oral disease.” (Wargo, Feb. 2013). The best way to avoid gum disease is to brush your pet’s teeth each day, have regular dental exams and professional dental cleanings as recommended by your veterinarian.
While it is easiest to get a puppy into the routine of brushing his or her teeth, you can always teach old dogs new tricks! The best time to start a homecare routine is after a professional cleaning from your veterinarian or as a puppy. “The reality is that cleaning without anesthesia doesn’t get below the gum line, which is where the leading edge of periodontal disease resides.” (Marretta, D.V.M., Feb. 2013) It is important to make this time fun and enjoyable for your pet. Have a special designated treat or toy for positive reinforcement. This treat or toy should be something your pet will do anything for, and should only be given after brushing. Choose a time of day that works best with your schedule and routine, and be consistent. Start by showing your pet the toothbrush and letting them smell it. Next, give them a taste of the toothpaste. Pet specific toothpaste must always be used, as human toothpaste is harmful to pets. Allowing your pet to chew on a toothbrush with toothpaste can get them accustomed to the feeling in their mouth. It is essential to brush the molars thoroughly; plaque and calculus build up in these areas most. With practice and consistency, you should be able to have your dog sit or lay down while brushing each tooth in circular motions. If your pet is frightened of the appearance of a toothbrush, there are many other brushing options such as “finger brushes”, abrasive wash clothes and brushless toothpaste.
Brushing is always the best home-care option for your pet’s dental health. If brushing is out of the question in your household, there are other routes of dental care. Pet food distributers, such as Royal Canin and others, have created pet prescription dental food. This food is nutritionally balanced and designed in a way to help clean your pet’s teeth. Other options include water additives that have bacteria fighting enzymes, as well as dental treats, and dental toys. Most water additives are designed to be scentless and tasteless as long as the appropriate amount is added to your pet’s drinking water. Water that has an additive should be changed daily. Some treats have bacteria fighting enzymes and/or structured in a way that clean teeth. Dental toys are a fun, in-between brushing option, that have raised nubs which massage the gums and help clean tartar from teeth as the pet chews. Some dental toys come in various flavors to entice your pet to chew more.
Develop a system for your pet’s dental hygiene. Brushing is always the best home-care option but other forms of dental care are available for the ultimate dental hygiene regime. Some breeds are susceptible to dental issues, such as weak tooth structure or calculus build-up. Remember to have your pet’s teeth examined yearly by your veterinarian, and follow any recommendations he or she may provide. The American Animal Hospital Association recommends small breeds begin oral exams and cleanings at one year old, and large breeds begin at two years old. A healthy mouth leads to a happy pet! It is never too late to start cleaning; your pet’s health is worth it!
Meredith Wargo, “Brush up on Dental Care” DogFancy February 2013 vol: 44
Sandra Manfra Marretta, D.V.M. diplomat of the AVDC and American College of Veterinary Surgeons, and professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine.