There are many ways of preventing dental disease and its side effects, providing your pet with a longer and more comfortable life. While none of these measures ‘guarantee’ perfect dental health, it is well known that your pet’s general well-being can be greatly increased by caring for their teeth.
By far the single most effective method of plaque control in any pet is brushing the teeth. This is not said to be glib or flippant – it truly is the best thing an owner can do for their pet’s dental hygiene. And it is not as difficult as most people believe.
Tip for dogs with hairy faces- clipping the hair around the mouth and face to stop hair from getting caught in the teeth makes a big difference to the health of their gums. To brush the teeth of a cat or dog, we recommend a finger toothbrush. You can use a normal toothbrush or an electric toothbrush as well, but these are often more difficult for starters as you need to visualise the teeth to initially make sure you are brushing correctly. With a finger toothbrush, you can feel and brush appropriately.
It is recommended to use pet toothpaste with a brush. The pet toothpastes are lower in fluoride than adult human toothpaste as dog and cats swallow what you put in their mouth; we, however, spit it out. The toothpaste adds some abrasiveness and also flavours the brushing, making it more enjoyable.
The best approach to brushing is to make sure the pet’s mouth is closed and to gently slip the brush under the lips into the cheek pouch. Do not open the mouth. Brushing can then take place in any type of motion you like. We are only really aiming at brushing the outside surfaces of the teeth, to clean the other surfaces, you would have to open the mouth and place the brush inside the mouth.
Dogs and cats do not have flat molar teeth like humans; they have pointy sharp teeth used for sectioning; and, thus, opening the mouth and brushing like a human is not required. The inside surfaces of the teeth generally do not accumulate as much plaque as the outer surfaces and by the time they require a scale and polish, the outside surfaces would too.
There are many chew products on the market today designed to aid in dental care for pets. In general, these products work because they physically rub on the teeth and wipe off the plaque. Realistically, these products only work partially due to the animals often having a preferred side to gnaw on and animals only gnaw with a few teeth in the mouth. These are drawbacks in any products that requires the animal to ‘chew’ something.
It is important that chew products are of an appropriate size for the animal. In general, companies recommend products that are not sized properly. Our pets should be trying to gnaw on an object that is bigger than their head. Small objects are all too often sectioned in one bite and promptly swallowed. Small objects are not really gnawed on for long enough to actually help reduce plaque levels. If the animal has to spend a long period gnawing on the object and utilise many areas of its mouth, then this will be more effective.
Dental diets: prescription dry foods
There are a few dental specific foods available on the market at the moment. All of these veterinary products work to some degree at reducing dental disease. The diets work in one of two ways – physically rubbing against the tooth to remove plaque and chemically binding calcium, reducing calculus formation.
Hill’s Science Diet Prescription t/d, Hill’s Science Diet Oral Care, Eukanuba Dental Defense System and Royal Canin Dental range all claim to work at reducing plaque accumulation in the mouth by physically removing it.
The Hill’s diet kibbles are designed and manufactured to not break apart until the tooth penetrates the whole way through it unlike other kibbles (including the rest of the premium foods’ range) that crumble to pieces when ‘chewed’.
These diets are effective but do have their drawbacks. The main drawback for dogs is that all teeth must bite through the kibble pieces for them to all be cleaned. This is not possible for all teeth, as not all teeth are gnawing teeth that are used to bite through foods. The main limitation for their use for cats is the fact that cats don’t chew (have you ever noticed when cats vomit there is often whole kibbles present?).
There are many other ‘tools’ to help you keep your pet's teeth clean and free from infection. Gels, in-water mouthwashes, pastes, sprays all help to some degree but will generally not be enough by themselves to control dental disease. We consider them helpful in combination with others practices.