Brushing teeth at home is considered the “gold standard” for plaque prevention and removal. Even though dogs do not normally get cavities, they do suffer from periodontal disease. If untreated, periodontal disease can lead to bad breath, pain, and tooth loss. By brushing, you can help save your pet’s teeth, their overall health, which keeps money in your wallet.
Studies have shown that brushing must be done a MINIMUM of 3-4 times per week to provide a noticeable benefit. Dogs and cats must be desensitized to having their muzzle and mouth manipulated before any brushing should be attempted. The ideal dog toothbrush will have a long handle, an angled head to better fit the mouth, and extra soft bristles. For cats, a shorter brush handle with a small head of bristles allows for finer control in their smaller mouths. Do not use human toothpaste because it has detergents that should not be swallowed. The best pet toothpastes will contain enzymes that help control plaque.
Here are some tips on how to get your pet used to brushing:
- Start by petting their muzzle
- Lift the lip on one side to see all of the teeth
- Opening the mouth to see the tongue and inside of their mouth
- Brushing the teeth with a plain finger
- Brushing with a finger and animal toothpaste (there will be licking and swallowing due to the flavoured paste)
- Brushing with animal toothpaste and appropriately sized soft-bristled tooth brushes or fingertip tooth brushes
Positive reinforcement is important and each of these steps may take days, weeks or months depending on your dog/cat. Bristled toothbrushes with bristles similar to human ones are important because only they can reach below the gumline, which is primary place for plaque and calculus to build up. Do not try to brush off the tartar/calculus (the hard, yellow-brown stuff) because it will not work. Brushing harder can cause pain and damage the gums. Brushing teeth works as a PREVENTATIVE, not treatment.
Special attention should be given to the outside of the upper teeth. The toothbrush bristles should be placed at the gum margin where the teeth and gums meet at a 45-degree angle. Be sure to gently place the bristle ends into the area around the base of the tooth as well as into the space between the teeth. Complete ten short back and forth motions, then move the brush to a new location. Try to cover two to four teeth at a time, pending the size of your pet’s mouth.
If you need a demonstration or if you have any questions regarding dental care at home, please contact us at Edgemont Veterinary Clinic.