Dental disease is painful, expensive & largely preventable, making home dental care one of the best and cheapest investments you can make in your pet's health. There are many things you can do at home to protect your pet’s oral health, and we rate them on the Good, Better, Best scale: It's Good to Chew, Better to Rinse, and Best to Brush. This means that brushing their teeth is the most effective thing you can do, followed by using a plaque-preventing water additive, and feeding specially designed dental health kibbles, chews or treats.
Why do we have to brush our pets' teeth?
The exact same reason we brush our own! Just like us, a film of plaque (bacteria) starts building up immediately after eating, and if it isn't brushed away this bacteria combines with the calcium in their food and hardens into tartar. Once tartar builds up, it starts to push their gums away from their teeth and create a pathway for bacteria to travel up the teeth toward the roots, and cause abscesses, destroy the ligaments that hold the teeth to the bone, and enter the pet's bloodstream.
Tooth brushing to remove daily plaque buildup before it can turn into tartar can short circuit this process and dramatically reduce tartar buildup. Daily is best, but even 3-4 times per week will have an impact - something is better than nothing! Once tartar has built up, professional dental cleanings under anesthesia are needed to remove the tartar from the teeth and under the gumline. All pets will still need veterinary dental cleanings, but brushing their teeth regularly can reduce the frequency, saving you a lot of money over their lifetime!
So HOW do I start brushing my pet's teeth?
Don't just dive in there - your pet won't understand what you're doing! The most successful method is to gradually desensitize your cat or dog to having their mouth handled. During your daily cuddle sessions, start massaging and lifting your pet's lips, and touching their front teeth. Work up to rubbing their teeth and sliding your finger back along their gum. Putting a bit of pet toothpaste, tuna juice or chicken baby food on your finger can make this seem like a treat. Then you can graduate to full tooth brushing. You can find a guide by visiting our Pet Health Library and searching for Tooth Brushing.
Taking a few weeks to slowly build up to full tooth brushing can make all the difference to your pet's acceptance. If you're still having trouble, please tell us at your pet's next appointment and we would be happy to help!
What else can I do to help prevent dental disease?
Tooth brushing is the most effective way to keep your pet’s mouth healthy, but if it isn’t possible (or if you want to do everything you can to prevent dental disease), then using a dental diet and water additive together will also help reduce plaque buildup, which is the first step in the development of dental disease.
Water additives such as Healthy Mouth are supplements that you add to your pet’s water. They contain enzymes, vitamins and botanical ingredients that help prevent plaque from building up on your pet’s teeth. These cannot break down existing tartar but prevent plaque buildup so that new tartar doesn’t form. It's most effective to start using water additives right after your pet has had a professional dental cleaning and all existing tartar and plaque buildup has been removed from their teeth and above their gumline.
Dental diets are specially designed kibbles that actually scrub your pet's teeth. They work by having a dense, fiber-filled core that does not break apart easily when your pet chews it (as opposed to normal kibbles, which shatter as soon as your pet bites down). This allows your pet’s teeth to sink deep into the kibble before it breaks, scrubbing plaque off with every bite. There is also an enzyme built into every kibble that decreases the formation of plaque by binding with the saliva.
Some dental chews and treats contain enzymes to help prevent plaque buildup. Other types of chews and treats simply have textured surfaces and abstract shapes to massage the gums and provide a safely abrasive surface for plaque to stick to during play. Dental chews and treats have limited effectiveness on their own, but together with tooth brushing and/or water supplements they can be an enjoyable part of your pet’s home dental health routine.