Did you know that almost all pets have some form of dental disease by age 3? Since they cannot brush their own teeth, your pet relies on you to provide top-notch dental care. Here are four ways to ensure your pet’s mouth remains healthy and pain-free. 

#1: Know dental disease signs in pets

You may think stinky kisses are normal for your pet, but their breath shouldn’t smell bad. In addition to bad breath, the following signs can clue you in to your pet’s dental disease:

  • Red, inflamed gums
  • Brown, yellow, or grey plaque and tartar accumulation on the teeth
  • Bleeding gums
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Cracked, stained, or worn teeth
  • Hair trapped between the teeth
  • Reluctance to chew
  • Pawing at one side of the mouth while eating
  • Dropping food while eating
  • Lump on the muzzle under the eye
  • Reluctance to be petted on the head
Keep in mind that pets are experts at hiding pain and disease signs, and can be silently suffering without routine oral health checks. Ideally, check your pet’s mouth for problems during each toothbrushing session to spot issues as quickly as they appear.

#2: Choose appropriate toys, treats, and chews for your pet’s dental health

As you search the pet store aisles for toys, treats, and chews to help your pet’s dental health, you’re likely overwhelmed with all the options and their claims. Choose items approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), an organization that grants their seal of approval only to products proven to slow plaque and tartar build-up, and thus dental disease progression. 

When shopping for your pet’s toys and chews, avoid items such as hooves, antlers, bones, and rawhide, because they can fracture your pet’s teeth or become stuck in their gastrointestinal tract. Also, do not let your pet chew on tennis balls, since tennis ball felt is abrasive on their teeth.

#3: Learn how to brush your pet’s teeth

Twice-daily toothbrushing at home is the best way to keep your pet’s teeth and mouth healthy. That may seem challenging if you’ve never brushed your pet’s teeth before, but they will quickly accept the new routine after learning a tasty reward is involved. Follow these steps to train your pet to allow toothbrushing:

  • Purchase pet-friendly toothpaste and a toothbrush — Human toothpaste contains fluoride, which is acceptable because we spit out the toothpaste. Pet toothpaste, which is swallowed, is fluoride-free to prevent toxicity issues, and is available in many tasty options, including chicken, fish, or vanilla mint. Typical adult toothbrushes are too large for most pets’ mouths, so use a baby toothbrush or finger brush.
  • Let your pet lick the toothpaste off your finger — Start slowly, first introducing your pet to the tasty toothpaste. Let them lick a dollop off your finger, and they’ll come to associate the toothpaste with a treat.
  • Wipe toothpaste on your pet’s teeth with your finger — Now that your pet knows the toothpaste is delicious, wipe some on their teeth so they get used to their mouth and teeth being touched.
  • Apply toothpaste to the toothbrush — Next, apply toothpaste to the toothbrush, and let your pick lick and nibble on the brush for their “treat.” 
  • Gently scrub your pet’s teeth with the toothbrush — After your pet realizes the toothbrush means tasty snacks will come, gently scrub their teeth. Apply a dollop of toothpaste, and scrub away plaque that is forming on the tooth surfaces, closest to the cheeks. You can train especially talented pets to open wide and say, “Ahh,” so you can reach the teeth’s inner surfaces, but the tongue usually keeps plaque at bay.
If you can’t manage twice-daily toothbrushing, aim for several times a week. Plaque begins forming on your pet’s teeth only a few hours after eating, and hardens into cement-like tartar in a day or two.

#4: Schedule dental cleanings for your pet as needed

Along with routine oral health exams, regular veterinary dental cleanings are also essential for your pet. Many pets require annual dental cleanings performed under general anesthesia to reduce gingivitis and remove accumulated plaque and tartar. Some may need more frequent cleanings, while others can wait a couple of years between sessions. During your pet’s dental cleaning, they will be anesthetized for their safety and ours, and will be unconscious and pain-free throughout the entire procedure, especially if we have to extract a diseased tooth. General anesthesia also prevents your pet from feeling stress, fear, or anxiety about the procedure. We will take dental X-rays to check for hidden disease under the gumline, which we cannot accomplish unless your pet is anesthetized. Annual cleanings are perfect for monitoring your pet’s changing dental health, and to quickly remedy any issues we find.

If your pet’s stinky breath is ruining your snuggle sessions, that smell may be doing more than driving you apart—bad breath can signal dental disease. Contact our Town & Country Animal Hospital team to schedule an oral exam for your furry pal.