Dental Health Tips for Your 4-Legged Family Member

Maintaining dental health is a big part of maintaining your pet’s good overall health, just as it is for us. There are always lots of questions in the exam room on the best way to do this. A dental exam, radiographs, cleaning and polishing under anesthesia is needed to address gingivitis or other established oral disease; no home care will cure these. After all, most of us brush twice daily, floss daily and still get our teeth cleaned and examined every 6 months by a professional!

The culprit in the mouth is plaque, the biofilm that starts building up within minutes of brushing. What you see in your pet's mouth is mainly calculus, which is mineralization which the plaque instigates within 48 hours; one dentist calls plaque the attacking soldiers and calculus the fortifications where the plaque "thugs" hide, which make plaque much more difficult to remove effectively. Plaque forms not only on the surfaces of the teeth we can see but also goes under the gum line and affects the tooth roots and eventually the bone. Even a clean-looking mouth can harbor a lot disease--60% of the tooth surface in a pet's mouth may be under the gum line. A professional dentistry as described above is needed to evaluate the health of the parts we can see and in addition all that we can't see. 

Just starting with the home care is great for puppies, kittens or adults who have had a dental cleaning very recently. The "gold standard" for home care is tooth brushing. Dail. Yes, that's what I said. Not only does calculus start to form within 48 hours of the last brushing, but we and our pets are creatures of habit -- if we tell ourselves, as we are running late, or "tomorrows", or we are "off the wagon" completely. How do you get started? Very patiently and gradually. 

If there is already some oral disease so the mouth hurts, your dog or cat will certainly object and may never even accept it readily after a dentistry, so being forceful about introducing tooth brushing is not in anyone's best interest. With patience, many dogs and even most cats will come to tolerate tooth brushing. My hat is off to my classmate and colleague who's cat lined up for tooth brushing along with the dogs every night -- this cat was sure he was missing out on something good! None of my kitties have ever had that response, sadly. My own dog is very accepting of daily brushing, but she is eager to please and we did work up to this. There are great videos online for how to introduce tooth brushing (we'll be posting our own tooth brushing video to the PVH YouTube channel soon!). Some dogs even allow an electric toothbrush. A child's soft toothbrush, or the soft tip end on some human brushes, for cats and small dogs, is ideal, and a veterinary toothpaste is essential, never use human toothpaste, it can even be toxic (after all, your pet will swallow this, not spit it out as we do).

For those who refuse brushing, or in addition to brushing, there are foods which are designed to help oral care. Look for foods (or other products to be mentione -- wipes, chews, water additives) that carry the Veterinary Oral Health Council approval -- check their website, for a listing of products. Food includes Purina Pro Plan Dental (which we carry at the practice), Hill'st/d, HealthyAdvantageOral+, Oral Care for Dogs, Oral Care for Cats, or Royal Canin Dental. The website lists even more. If your animal has a sore mouth, he or she may be reluctant to chew these foods -- that may be your clue that your pet is overdue for professional dentistry.

Not all pets like these foods and some have other health concerns -- kidney disease, pancreatitis, food sensitivities, etc. -- that make these foods inappropriate. There are wipes: MaxiGuard, Vetradent, Clenzadent--that will help cleanse the plaque off, CET makes an oral rinse (this is sprayed in, your dog or cat needn't gargle with it!) and the water additive Healthy Mouth carries the VOHC approval.

Chews are a very popular option, the pet usually sees these as a treat so they are all easy to work into the daily routine. A large number now carry the VOHC approval--Greenies dental chews, Veggie Dent, CET chews, Dentastix, and more. Giving an OraVet chew after dinner or at bedtime, or example allows the delmopinol ingredient access to the tooth surface for 8 or more hours. Don't be alarmed if this chew colors your dog's stool green!

Let's step up to the plate on your responsibility to keep our pets as healthy as we can; daily home care in addition to professional dentistries as needed can make a big difference throughout their lifetimes--maybe even extend their lifetimes! And just think of the benefit of better-smelling breath -- after all, most of them sleep on our beds, many on our pillow. Here's to a sweeter smelling 2019!