Everyone knows we should brush our teeth every day to keep them healthy, but did you know we should also brush our pets’ teeth? Dogs and cats need to keep their teeth clean just like people, but since they can’t hold their own toothbrush it’s up to us to help!
The best at-home care for pet teeth is regular teeth brushing. Of course, brushing your pets’ teeth puts your fingers in a potentially dangerous situation; make sure your pet feels comfortable with you touching their mouth before proceeding (don’t risk getting bit to brush the teeth!). Pets with severe dental disease may have painful teeth and not be willing to let you near their mouths; a dental cleaning with your veterinarian will get their teeth back on track and feeling better!
To start our pets on a tooth brushing regimen, we first have to help them adjust to having their teeth and gums touched. Gently massaging the gums with your finger is a good start. Once your pet becomes accustomed to this, you can try rubbing the teeth with a gauze square. The next step is to use a soft bristle brush (for larger dogs) or a finger brush (for smaller dogs and cats). Keep each session short and fun, and use plenty of positive reinforcement (like treats and praise) to encourage your pets. It’s more important that we have a short, but fun, brushing session, than to have a longer session but teach our pet to run away when they see the toothbrush!
Be sure to always use dog and cat specific toothpaste when brushing your pets’ teeth; human toothpaste can make them sick! Dog and cat toothpastes are flavored so our pets enjoy teeth brushing as much as possible, and makes it harder to confuse our toothpaste with theirs (unless you prefer your breath to be chicken-scented!).
If possible, try to brush your pets’ teeth every day, just like you do for your teeth!
For animals who will not allow teeth brushing, there are a wide variety of dental treats, chews, and even specially formulated diets available. These are the next best option if we can’t brush our pets’ teeth. Look for the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal of approval!
Once our dogs and cats develop tartar and plaque, a full dental cleaning is needed to get their mouths back to tip-top shape. Full cleaning requires removing tartar and plaque above and below the gums, so we have to sedate our animals for a complete dental. Sedation also allows the veterinarian to completely evaluate the teeth and gums, and determine if any additional dental work is needed. Dental radiographs (X-rays) help the veterinarian evaluate the underlying bone and teeth roots, to further assess dental health. Learn more about dental radiographs here!
Teeth with severe disease and infection can develop a dental abscess. An abscess may present as a swelling or bulge around the mouth. A new lump along the muzzle is a common presentation for dental abscesses in dogs. With time, the lump may develop a hole and ooze all sorts of gross material as it drains. Abscesses are very painful, and often our pets will be drooling, and refuse to eat when they have an abscess. If you suspect your pet has a dental abscess, be sure to bring them to the veterinarian right away!