Dental Care for Healthy Pets

Most people know they must care for their pearly whites. Plaque and tartar buildup can cause bacteria to migrate into our bloodstreams, resulting in serious health problems.

The same holds true for cats and dogs. Along with love, good food and exercise, a daily brushing of their teeth is one of the most important things we can give our animal companions.

“You can imagine if we didn’t brush for five years how bad things would get,” said John Lewis, president-elect of the American Veterinary Dental Society and assistant professor of veterinary dentistry and oral surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. “More and more evidence points to the mouth as a source of inflammation and infection that can cause adverse effects elsewhere in the body.”

Tenacious Tartar
In one study, Penn researchers found lower levels of inflammatory substances in the bloodstreams of dogs after their teeth had been cleaned. Plaque—a mix of food particles, saliva and bacteria—is easily brushed off, until it calcifies and becomes tartar, which brushing cannot remove.

“It takes about 24 hours for tartar to form, so brushing your cat’s or dog’s teeth every day can do a lot to prevent periodontal disease from beginning or advancing,” Lewis said. Another upside to brushing your pet’s teeth? No more bad breath.

Consult a Veterinarian if your pet shows any of the following symptoms:

  • Signs of periodontal disease • Brownish coloured teeth
  • Loose or missing teeth • Swollen, red or bleeding gums
  • Pus between the gums and teeth • Any unusual growth in the mouth
  • Reluctance to eat, play with chew toys or drink cold water
  • Persistent bad breath

Start Brushing Early
Young animals generally accept the routine more easily than their older counterparts, so start brushing when your puppy or kitten still has baby teeth. Make it fun by talking in a happy voice, and give your pet a treat at the end. With older pets, you’ll likely need more patience, but keep trying.

For pets who resist strongly, consider special foods and diets aimed at promoting dental health.The Veterinary Oral Health Council awards its seal of acceptance to such foods and treats based on studies that prove a product’s effectiveness.

How to Brush
Lewis says toothpaste isn’t necessary. “The mechanical effect of the bristles is far more important than what you put on the brush,” he said. Start by moistening the bristles with warm water. Don’t pull open your pet’s mouth. Simply lift the animal’s lips and insert the brush, paying special attention to the back teeth. Brush in a circular motion that allows the bristles to gently get at the gum line.

Finish up with a treat and lots of praise. If you do use toothpaste, use only products designed for dogs and cats. As part of your pet’s regular physical exam, your veterinarian can let you know if a professional cleaning to remove tartar and restore teeth to pearly health is necessary.

Humane Society of the United States, 2009.