Guest Post by Dr. Jennifer Weeks-Llera
Dental disease is one of the most common things I see during annual physical examinations of dogs. Many people are surprised at the amount of tartar and gingivitis that has developed in their dogs mouth since their last visit and they are not familiar with the importance of home care that can be done to prevent this dental disease. Daily control of plaque before it becomes mineralized to form tartar is the most important factor for a healthy mouth. As plaque builds up, periodontal disease will develop which can lead to pain and loss of teeth. Bad teeth will cause chronic infection and inflammation that can have negative effects on a pet’s overall health. So what steps can you take to keep your dog’s mouth healthy? The key to prevention of plaque and tartar is home care.
Just as for our own teeth, daily brushing is one of the best things that can be done to prevent plaque development on your dog’s teeth. Frequently, I hear clients comment that their dog gets his/her teeth brushed every 6 weeks or so by the groomer and they can’t believe how the teeth could be so dirty. If we think about this in comparison to our own dental health, this would be the equivalent of you only getting your teeth brushed when you go for a haircut. So how frequently should you brush your dogs teeth? Brushing three times a week can be adequate to maintain teeth and gums that are healthy, however daily brushing is needed if gingivitis is already present.
When should you start brushing your dogs teeth?
Start early! As young as 8-12 weeks of age is a great time to start brushing your puppy’s teeth. Even though the puppy will eventually loose the deciduous, or baby, teeth as their permanent teeth erupt, getting them used to having their teeth brushed is an important first step in dental home care. When you notice that your puppy is beginning to loose their baby teeth (usually around 14 weeks of age), it is a good idea to stop brushing the teeth brushing for a little while until their permanent teeth have erupted as their mouth may be a bit sore as they are teething.
A soft bristled tooth brush is best used when brushing your dog’s teeth. It is important never to use human toothpastes as these are not intended to be swallowed. Pet toothpastes are safe if swallowed and are available in a number of flavours, such as poultry and beef, to increase your pet’s acceptance of them.
It is good to make a daily routine of brushing your dog’s teeth. Remember to make it fun and rewarding! As you first introduce your dog to teeth brushing, coat the toothbrush with pet safe toothpaste and allow your pet to simply lick the brush a 4-5 times per day for the first couple of days. As your pet becomes comfortable with the toothbrush near their mouth, you can gently begin to handle the muzzle and lips and then begin to lift the dog’s lip and rub your finger along the outer surfaces of the teeth and gums. Once your pet is comfortable with you doing this, you can gradually introduce them to using the toothbrush to brush along these surfaces of the top and bottom teeth. Brushing the inner, tongue side, of the teeth is less important than the outer surfaces. Brush the teeth in small, circular motions. A slight amount of bleeding from the gum line may sometimes occur, but if you notice ongoing or heavy bleeding this may indicate the presence of gum disease. If this is noticed, it is best to speak with your veterinarian for further recommendations.
Dental Foods & Chews
Although not a substitute for daily teeth brushing, dental diets (such as Hill’s T/D, Royal Canin Dental, Science Diet Dental Care, and Purina DH) have been shown to effectively decrease the plaque and tartar build up on dog’s teeth. These diets are designed to be fed as an entire meal on a daily basis and, when you are ready to switch your dog from a puppy food onto an adult food, are an excellent adult maintenance diet option.
Another common misconception is that chewing on bones, cow hooves, or antlers can help keep a dog’s teeth clean. These chew toys are not considered appropriate for dogs as they are very hard and can easily break teeth. Broken teeth which, in turn, cause the dog pain and lead to the development of tooth root abscesses. The “knee-cap test” is a good way to help decide if a toy is safe for your dogs teeth. If a toy is so hard that you wouldn’t want to hit your knee with it, then your dog shouldn’t be chewing on it. Additionally, softer chew toys are better for puppies as their baby teeth are more fragile than adult dog teeth and they can very easily be fractured.
There are many products on the market with claims to improve pet’s dental health that have no research to support these claims. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), which consists of veterinary dentists and dental scientists, was formed to recognize cat and dog products that meet standards to decrease the formation of plaque and tartar. Products that meet these standards are awarded the VOHC Seal of Acceptance. A list of these products can be found on the VOHC website. Some examples of the products that are listed include several dental diets, Greenies, and Healthy Mouth Water Additive.
It is very important to remember that the home care tips discussed in this article are recommended for the PREVENTION of plaque and tartar and are not a treatment for established dental disease. An essential component of your dog’s dental care includes yearly or semiannual examination by a veterinarian who can identify dental disease early on and provide recommendations on treatment options that are available. By providing dental home care for your dog, along with guidance from your veterinarian, you can help keep your dog’s breath fresh and their teeth healthy.
Dr. Jennifer Weeks-Llera is an associate small animal veterinarian at Richmond Veterinary Clinic in Napanee, Ontario. She is married to fellow veterinarian, Dr. Ryan Llera. Together, they own and love 2 dogs, 3 cats, 2 horses, and a rabbit.