Although it is often overlooked, pets require dental care too. Nearly nine out of ten adult dogs and cats have some form of pet dental disease. With the downturn in the economy, home dental care for dogs and cats becomes increasingly important as vet visits and veterinarian dental cleaning are cut back by households.
Signs and Symptoms of Poor Oral Health
- Persistent bad breath
- Sensitivity around the mouth
- Pawing at the mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Plaque (not visible unless stained)
- Bleeding, inflamed or receded gums
- Tartar (creamy‐brown, hard material)
- Loose, missing or infected teeth
- Difficulty eating and chewing food
Why Home Dental Care?
Imagine how your own teeth and mouth would feel if you never brushed your teeth or visited a dentist. Dry food and chew toys help clean some of your pet's teeth, but they don't clean teeth at the gum line where most dental problems begin. In animals, as with people, routine dental care is essential for puppies and dogs.
How to Begin
For a few days prior to starting your home dental care program, merely stroke the outside of your pet's cheeks with your fingers. This will accustom your pet to having your hands near its mouth. Your pet may also accept this as an extension of petting.
The Use of Breath Spray
Breath sprays are formulated to help control bad breath and promote oral hygiene. To get started with the application of breath sprays, gently pull back lips and cheek to expose the back teeth. Spray teeth, gums and mouth. Although using breath spray may be the easiest method of home dental care, there should be some form of rubbing or abrading of the tooth surface at the gum line when applying the breath spray. This act gently massages the gums. For best results, use a toothbrush or finger toothbrush.
Introducing your dog to tooth brushing is not difficult. It takes only a few minutes each day. Fortunately, the outside surfaces of teeth need the most attention and are the easiest to reach.
Tooth brushing is the most effective method in cleaning your dog's teeth at home. The cleaning action of the bristles along the gum line is critical in maintaining the health of teeth and gums.
With some dogs and puppies, using a finger toothbrush may be a more comfortable procedure in the beginning. The finger toothbrush may help puppies and dogs become accustomed to having hands around their mouths. Once your dog has become familiar with this step, introducing a bristle‐type brush should be much easier. Remember, acceptance by your dog is an important key in making this new procedure comfortable for both you and your pet.
Brushing a Dog's Teeth
To introduce a dog to toothpaste, simply apply a small amount of toothpaste to your finger. Because the taste of toothpaste is typically appealing, most dogs will lick it from your finger. Next, apply toothpaste to the toothbrush and allow your dog to lick it off. This will familiarize your pet with the toothbrush and assure acceptance of brushing. Gently pull the lips and cheeks up. Begin brushing with short, back‐and‐forth strokes at the gum line. Brush only a few teeth the first time. Give lots of reassurance and praise during this process. Increase the number of teeth brushed each time until your dog accepts this routine willingly.
- Diet is important in minimizing plaque accumulation. Soft, sticky foods promote plaque formation. Hard food is helpful for some cleaning action. However, it does not adequately clean or prevent tartar buildup at the gum line.
- If you have not been routinely caring for your pet's teeth, the plaque and tartar build‐up may be excessive. Hardened tartar should be professionally removed by your veterinarian.
- If your dog is a "struggler", you may need some help. An initial restraining method worth trying is to wrap your dog in a towel with just the head protruding. This confinement allows for better control.
- Do not use human toothpaste as it may cause an upset stomach for your dog. Baking soda has sometimes been suggested for use. Aside from the poor taste, baking soda contains high sodium levels. This may cause health problems in some animals, especially those with a heart condition.
- Do not use human toothbrushes. The bristles are generally too hard and may injure gum tissue.
Look for toys made with safe, non‐toxic materials like natural rubber. Examine the toy for actual dental features; features likely to substantially clean the teeth. Ask yourself if your dog will be motivated to play with and chew the perspective dental toy. Dental toys that include treat dispensing or gripping features increase these odds.