At-Home Dental Care

Doggie kisses are the best medicine in the world. Coming home after a long day at school or work seems that much better when you are greeted with a friendly muzzle and sloppy kiss. As much as we love this canine show of affection, it can be tarnished by the insidious monster of the dental world: bad breath.

Bad breath in canines is generally caused by build-up of plaque or tartar on the teeth. This plaque and tartar is actually microscopic colonies of bacteria and salt particles that adhere to the teeth, leading to gum disease known as gingivitis. As the tartar accumulates, the breath will worsen along with the gingivitis, eventually causing rotten teeth and potential root abscesses.


This brings us to the all-important message of our topic: the best way to stop bad breath and slow plaque and tartar build-up on our furry friends’ teeth is… Brushing them!

Far from the simple daily hygiene routine we have as humans, brushing a dog’s teeth is not an easy task. So here are a few tidbits to lessen the canine dental drama:

Brushing is the most critical step. Didn’t I just say that? Yes. However, what I mean is that the mechanical movement of textured material against the teeth removes the greatest amount of dental build-up. Not the toothpaste. While human toothpaste is intended to be anti-bacterial, whitening, strengthening, desensitizing, and so on; canine toothpaste is merely a flavoring to convince the dog brushing is a tasty experience. Some dogs love it! Others hate it. So, if your dog will sit, stay and beg for his toothpaste and brushing, that’s fantastic!  Remember that brand and flavor and stick with it. If your dog chooses to turn his nose up to the toothpaste, don’t sweat. His oral hygiene is not dependent on the flavored paste (coming in varieties like chicken, peanut butter, or interesting mint combinations).

Now if your pet runs from the sight of the toothbrush itself, we have some options. As mentioned above, the “textured material” moving against the tooth is the mainstay of dental health. The material can range from the commercially available and easily recognized canine toothbrush to simple first aid supplies. Most canine toothbrushes have bristles at both ends with a small end and a large end. Often, the ends will be angled for easier brushing. These can be found in most pet stores and work great for removing tartar. Unfortunately, pets are often frightened of this simple device, especially when forced near the face and sensitive gums. Toothbrushes are excellent tools for pets tolerant and cooperative for frequent brushing. As your pet becoming more accepting of the hygiene routine, you can eventually work your way to using a toothbrush. Finger brushes can sometime have bristles similar to toothbrushes but are often made from soft plastic or rubber with an abrasive surface. They slide on the finger then are used to – you guessed it – brush the teeth. This is sometimes more tolerated than the toothbrush but can be bulky. The simplest technical option is using a 3×3 or 4×4 gauze square found on the shelves of major pharmacies everywhere. This provides an abrasive surface and is disposable after the brushing. The less bulky nature of the gauze is often far more appealing to pets and can be a great starting tool for brushing allowing you to slowly graduate to the commercial toothbrush.

The best bit of information – you do not have to brush the inside of the teeth. This will save you heartache, injury, and chewed utensils. When brushing the teeth, use your free hand in the shape of a “C” to hold the mouth closed to avoid unnecessary chewing. Brush the upper and lower teeth on one side making sure to reach all the way in the back of the cheek to reach the pesky pre-molars and molars that love to accumulate the most tartar in the mouth. Repeat on the other side. Simple, right? Well, maybe not. This will still depend on the pet’s cooperation and the most critical concerns for veterinarians is that no one is hurt during the dental undertaking.

While brushing is the gold standard for daily health care, other more convenient options include dental chews or water additives. These won’t remove tartar in the way brushing will, but they can be effective at slowing the tartar build-up. With countless varieties available over the counter, picking a dental product can be just as daunting as trying to brush a canine’s canines. To help with this selection, the American Veterinary Dental College created the Veterinary Oral Health Committee (VOHC) to create protocols and prerequisites for dental products. All products that bear the VOHC seal of approval have been shown to effectively slow tartar and plaque accumulation by either mechanical (chewing) or chemical (enzymatic or anti-bacterial) means. You can peruse the full list of approved products Submission to the VOHC is voluntary and not all com

panies will send their products. If picking something not listed on the VOHC website, the American Veterinary Dental Society recommends avoiding any chews or chew toys that you cannot bend with your hands. This is to prevent dogs from breaking their teeth on objects that are too hard to chew. Never offer any toys small enough to fit entirely inside your pet’s mouth. Any toy or chew that small runs the risk of being a choking hazard.To this end, it is best to provide dental chews only when supervised for the safety of the pet. Whether selecting a VOHC approved item or another dental option on the self, be aware that many dog chews have a calorie content. Always give dental chews in moderation and slightly reduce your pet’s food on days receiving a chew. We don’t need to cause weight gain to help keep the teeth clean.

All of your dental efforts at home will reduce periodontal disease and help maintain your pet’s overall health. That will mean less gingivitis and fewer, if any, dental extractions required during your pet’s annual or biannual anesthetic dental cleaning. Yes, you heard right. Even with the best at-home oral hygiene, pets will still need anesthetic dental cleanings to remove tartar – it will still develop even with our best at-home efforts. This is why humans have semiannual cleanings even with regular twice daily brushing and flossing.  Much like flossing, regular routine canine brushing will provide the greatest results but may not always happen. Don’t be discouraged and brush as often as you can or as often as you can remember. Every little bit will help improve your dog’s mouth and overall health.

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