We’ve all been there. Your dog jumps up to lick your face or your cat crawls into your lap and starts to nuzzle against your face and then it hits you – the bad breath. You lift their lips to take a look at their teeth and find they are covered in calculus. What can be done? While plaque is a thin layer that is removable by brushing the teeth, calculus is mineralized and requires anesthesia to effectively remove. Therefore, owners should strive to prevent calculus formation before it begins. As February is National Pet Dental Health month, we wanted to spotlight what owners can do at home to keep their pets’ mouths looking clean, smelling fresh, and how formal veterinary dental cleanings can compliment homecare.
Homecare – Brush, Brush, Brush!
The number one thing that is most effective at removing plaque is daily brushing of your pet’s teeth. While some pets simply will not tolerate it, many animals – with a little owner effort – can become well accustomed to regular brushing. There are many pet toothpastes available in a variety of tasty flavors that many pets will see as a treat. Often, owners can start by getting their pet used to the toothpaste alone by letting them lick it off their fingers for the first few days. The next step is to try massaging the toothpaste gently over the sides of teeth. Once your pet becomes familiar with the toothpaste, you can introduce a pet toothbrush. The ultimate goal should be daily brushing to remove plaque and minimize bacteria and gum disease.
Other products commonly used to help minimize dental disease are chemical and mechanical products. Chemical products, such as water additives or mouth rinses, often include antibacterial agents designed to decrease the amount of bacteria in the mouth. Mechanical products, such as dental diets and bones/toys, are designed to be slightly abrasive on the teeth, thereby removing plaque. It is important to note that if you are using a dental diet, such as Hill’s T/D, the kibble size must be big enough that your pet must chew it rather than swallow the kibble whole. In addition, not all bones are created equal and many of them carry a risk of fracturing teeth. In general, natural bones, dried cow hooves, and hard nylon toys should be avoided as these carry the highest risk of tooth fracture. However, there are some rawhide chew products and rubber chew toys that are quite effective at minimizing plaque formation while carrying a low risk of causing tooth fracture. It is important to note that rinses, bones, and toys cannot take the place of daily brushing, but should be in addition to daily brushing for the best results.
Veterinary Dental Cleanings
Even with the best homecare, most pets are still going to develop dental disease at some point in their lives. This is because there are many factors, including diet, chewing habits, general health status, and genetics that can influence the rate and severity of calculus formation and gum disease. Once calculus is established, only a professional dental cleaning under anesthesia is going to be effective in removing the calculus and returning your pet’s mouth to a clean and healthy state. Remember that in the exam room, your vet often only can determine about 10-15% of the dental disease that is going on with your pet while awake