Helping your pet with dental hygiene

In last month’s installment, I discussed the causes of periodontal disease in dogs and cats and how plaque accumulation and tartar build up on the tooth causes irritation to the gums and eventually leads to infection in the surrounding bone.

Plaque develops daily and tartar begins to form from the plaque within a few days if the surface of the tooth is not kept clean.

Remember, the statistic presented last month? “Eight-five percent of pets have periodontal disease by 3 years of age.”

Think about this for a moment. We are not saying that they have plaque, tartar or gingivitis by age 3, but that there are actual changes to the health of the structures holding the teeth in place by age 3. If not properly managed, many cats and dogs will begin losing teeth and suffer severe dental pain through the majority of their life.

The message is that the causes of gum disease in our pets are the same as causes in humans. This article will focus on the steps you can take at home to help prevent periodontal disease and help to reduce the time between professional cleanings.

If your pet has mild gingivitis and little to no tartar build up, then a good home protocol will help maintain healthy gums. Brushing, just as it is with people, is the single best way to remove plaque and reduce gingivitis. Brushing three times a week has been shown to maintain healthy teeth and gums, but daily brushing is necessary to reduce existing gingivitis.

If you are going to start brushing, go slow. Most dogs won’t take kindly to suddenly having a toothbrush stuck in their mouth. For the first two weeks, start by gently massaging the gums with your finger.

Next, add some dog toothpaste on your finger and spend a couple of weeks conditioning your dog to that.

Finally start adding a toothbrush or fingerbrush. Never use human toothpaste as the fluoride and sweeteners can be harmful to animals. Focus on cleaning just the outer surfaces of the teeth.

Besides brushing, there are several other products available that can help to combat plaque. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) has tested and rated numerous dental products and only give its seal to products that have proven to be effective. Consult the council’s website ( for a full list.

Some of the more popular products that have earned the VOHC seal include Virbac CET veggiedent chews, greenies for cats and dogs, HealthiDent, Bright Bites and Tartar Shield chews. Water additives, oral gels and sprays are gaining popularity but few have earned VOHC approval.

Cat and dog “ESSENTIAL” by Healthymouth has all three products available for both dogs and cats and they have been shown to be effective in reducing plaque.

Avoid giving your dog cow hooves, pigs ears and bones as they are too hard for chewing will frequently cause teeth to fracture.

Finally, when it comes to the right diet for dental health, it is best to choose approved dental specific diets either fed as a complete meal or as a supplement to your pet’s normal feeding. Hard kibble alone does not clean teeth as is often believed. Dental diets are higher in fiber and when chewed allow the teeth to sink deeply into the kibble before it breaks apart. The result is a mechanical scrubbing away of plaque.

Proper dental care is not always easy, so begin with what you can handle and build on that over time. If you already brush your pet’s teeth, great job! Keep it up.

Remember that many veterinarians offer free dental exams to discuss concerns regarding your pet’s oral health.

Drs. Tom and Tara Suplizio own Animal Medical Clinic in Grand Junction. The Suplizios are graduates of the Colorado State University Veterinary School. Email them at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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