The majority of pets show signs of dental disease by the age of 3. Dental disease develops in pets the same way it does in people, with sticky plaque coating the teeth and attracting bacteria to the gumline. Plaque that isn’t removed by brushing hardens into tartar and continues to accumulate over time. It can erode the gumline, attack the bony tooth roots and their soft tissue attachments, and cause bacteria to leach into the bloodstream and ultimately damage a pet’s kidneys, heart, or liver.
At Town & Country Animal Hospital, we believe good oral health is key to your pet’s overall wellness and requires a comprehensive approach that includes professional dental care as well as a home care regimen. The mainstay of oral home care is toothbrushing, which can remove plaque from your pet’s teeth before it hardens. Toothbrushing is recommended twice daily for all pets with adult teeth, when possible. We know this can be a daunting task, so we’ve compiled some do’s and don’ts to help guide you.
Do: Choose an appropriate brush and pet toothpaste
Toothpaste for pets is flavored and safe to swallow, and uses enzymes to break up plaque and bacteria on teeth. Choose a product recommended by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) for proven safety and efficacy. For toothbrushes, purchase a brush designed for your pet’s size or use a soft-bristled human brush.
Don’t: Use human toothpaste on your pet
Human toothpastes contain fluoride and other ingredients that aren’t safe for pets—or people—to swallow. Since you can’t ask your pet to swish and spit, you should never use these products as part of their dental care.
Do: Acclimate your pet to toothbrushing slowly
To incorporate toothbrushing into their daily routine, your pet needs to readily accept the process. Introduce toothbrushing slowly and pair each step with positive reinforcement using treats or other rewards. Start by showing your pet the brush and allowing them to lick the toothpaste, then progress to lifting their lips, touching their teeth briefly with the brush, then brushing for longer periods of time. Take as long as your pet needs to feel comfortable, which could be a few hours or a few weeks.
Don’t: Create a negative experience associated with toothbrushing
Don’t rush the training process. If your pet shows signs of anxiety, such as panting, yawning, or trying to get away, stop your training session and try again a different day. You also should avoid toothbrushing in pets whose teeth may be painful, such as teething puppies or pets with advanced gum disease. If you think toothbrushing is causing your pet pain, stop immediately and have your veterinarian evaluate their teeth.
Do: Consider toothbrush alternatives and other oral care products for pets who won’t accept brushing
Some pets never get used to brushing or aren’t great candidates because of their temperament, oral pain, or other factors. For pets who don’t like the toothbrush, use a gauze square instead. For pets who won’t allow touching around their mouth, try some of the alternative oral care products that can help keep their mouth healthy, such as chews, diets, treats, gels, wipes, and water additives. Check out VOHC’s recommendations here.
Don’t: Avoid dental home care altogether
A healthy mouth is the foundation for a healthy body, so if you can’t brush your pet’s teeth, you should invest some time in finding effective alternative products for their oral health.
Do: Brush your pet’s teeth twice daily
Toothbrushing is most effective if done twice daily, just like your own oral care. Once your pet is comfortable with toothbrushing, establish a routine and stick to it. Toothbrushing is easiest to remember if you pair it with another daily activity such as mealtime.
Don’t: Brush your pet’s teeth twice monthly
If you’re going to put in the effort to brush your pet’s teeth, you have to be consistent to see a benefit. Once daily or several times a week will still be beneficial, but anything less probably won’t.
In addition to routine home care, professional veterinary dental evaluations, cleanings, and treatments are necessary to fully maintain your pet’s health. Your Town & Country Animal Hospital team is your ultimate dental health resource. Call us to schedule an appointment for a dental evaluation and consultation, or to discuss your pet’s oral home care routine.