Have you looked in your pet's mouth lately? Are all of their teeth bright and white, or is it a bit scary? Did you know February is national pet dental month? According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, an organization dedicated to advancing the science and art of veterinary medicine, eighty percent of dogs show signs of oral disease by the age of three. Pet's should go to the veterinarian for a check-up bi-annually or, at a minimum, annually. If your pet has recently gone to the veterinarian, they will always take a look at your pet's teeth. When looking at your pet's teeth, the veterinarian might talk about Periodontal Disease.
Periodontal Disease is ranked from grade 1-4. Grade 1 has minimal calculus/tartar, no gingivitis, and no gum recession. Grade 2 has moderate calculus/tartar and mild gingivitis. Grade 3 has very heavy calculus/tartar and moderate gingivitis, along with gum recession. Grade 4 has very heavy calculus/tartar, very irritated gums with severe gingivitis, and severe gum recession. Grade 1 and grade 2 can be helped with daily brushing. Grade 3 and grade 4 need intervention by a veterinarian to clean the teeth under anesthesia and remove any unhealthy teeth. Dogs have a lot more teeth than humans, so you don't have to worry if your dog is missing some teeth. Dental health is incredibly important for a dog, as it can prevent numerous health problems; some of these health issues being heart disease, collapsed trachea from bacterial inflammation, or dental infections.
How to begin?
So your pet has had a recent appointment with the veterinarian, and the doctor recommended you start brushing your dog's teeth. It is a process and should not be just sprung on the dog. The dog is less likely to tolerate the brushing if they are not introduced to the process of teeth brushing.
Initially, it would help get your pet used to touching their muzzle and their lips and lifting their lips. Every time the dog successfully tolerates you touching their mouth and lips, you should reward them with a treat. You should do this for 3-5 days regularly, but time can vary! After doing this successfully, you can move on to applying a little toothpaste to your finger and applying it under your pet's upper lip also to get them used to you being in their mouth. You can do this for another few days. Then, you can move to toothpaste on the toothbrush. You can apply the toothpaste to the toothbrush and brush the teeth on both sides for at least 30 seconds. Once you get them comfortable, progress to brushing your pet's teeth daily, just like you do with your teeth!
What will you need?
You will want to purchase a pet toothbrush, since pet toothbrushes are shaped slightly differently than human toothbrushes. They can be found at a local pet store. As far as tooth paste, you want to make sure the toothpaste you use is approved by the Veterinary Oral Hygiene Committee (VOHC). One of the best kinds of toothpaste you can use is CET Enzymatic Toothpaste, which is available online and at some pet stores. There are plenty of other kinds of toothpaste on the market, but they are not guaranteed to be effective in keeping calculus and tartar away.
What if your pet doesn't like brushing?
Unfortunately, not every pet will tolerate teeth brushing even with a slow transition. In that case, there are some other options. If your pet likes treats, there are VOHC approved dental chews you can give to your pet daily, with a small amount of toothpaste, so then your pet can do their own brushing. If your pet does not like the dental chews and at least tolerates you putting your finger or a little pet toothpaste in their mouth, you can apply a little toothpaste to your finger or a gauze square and rub it in their mouth over their upper teeth. If your pet doesn't tolerate any of these options and they severely need regular dental cleaning, you can talk with your veterinarian about switching your pet to a prescription Dental Diet. Some options may include Hill's makes T/D or Royal Canin Dental Diet. The kibble is designed in such a way they act like brushing. Ultimately, do what is recommended by your vet and what your pet enjoys best!
What if my dog's teeth are beyond brushing?
If your dog's teeth have not been well maintained with daily home dental care, the veterinarian will probably recommend a dental cleaning under anesthesia. During a dental cleaning, all the teeth are scaled above and below the gum line to remove any calculus and tartar to help improve any effects of gingivitis. A dental cleaning is immensely beneficial for maintaining optimal oral and general health. Additionally, a clean mouth is a comfortable mouth! Dentals prevent bad breath and discolored teeth, while also ensuring that dogs do not live with discomfort and can properly eat and play!
It is important to incorporate home dental care into your pet's daily routine. Healthy teeth and gums can help your pet lead a long healthy life. It is important to start home dental care early, if possible. Both young and old dogs alike can adapt to regular teeth brushing, so give it a try for the sake of their dental health! Even if your pet does not tolerate brushing, there are other options and you can always discuss a plan of action with your pet's veterinarian.