Caring for your Pet’s Teeth at Home

You bring your pet in to Twin Maples for an exam, vaccines, maybe a blood test or fecal test, and to get the basic preventative medications to take home.   And after that exam, your veterinarian likely will have a few things to say about your pet’s overall health.  We do our best not to overwhelm you with information, but let’s face it: you’re not going to remember everything that was said in the exam room.  And we don’t expect you to.  So this blog post will go over some of our recommendations for at-home dental care.

Let’s begin first with a brief discussion about dental cleanings.  By the age of 3, ~70-80% of all dogs and cats have some form of dental disease.  Often the only symptom noticed by you at home is bad breath.  When one of the vets at Twin Maples examines your pet, we often can see the signs of dental disease (red gums, tartar accumulation, bone recession, gum recession, loose teeth, etc).  Sometimes the teeth and gums look healthy, and there may only be bad breath.  Regardless of what we see, most of us will start recommending yearly or every other year dental cleanings once a pet is 3 years old (some of us recommend starting them sooner!).

The benefits of a ‘dental cleaning’ (also known as a complete oral health assessment and treatment, or COHAT) under anesthesia are that we can detect early signs of periodontal disease by probing the gum line along each tooth for pockets, we can x-ray any suspicious teeth and determine need for extraction, and we can provide a thorough scaling of the teeth above and below the gum line.  This care is the same you would receive from your dental hygienist and dentist; we just have to do it under anesthesia since our pets would not cooperate awake!

We will also make recommendations about at-home dental care.  After a dental cleaning at our own dentist’s office, we go home and brush our teeth and floss at least one to two times a day.  We do this to prevent accumulation of plaque, which is the film of bacteria that forms on the teeth between cleanings and can cause inflammation leading to dental disease if untreated.  If we prevent plaque, we can prevent tartar and gingivitis, and the progression of dental disease and need for extractions!  Keep in mind, at-home dental care is NOT a substitution for a dental cleaning; at-home dental care is for prevention of disease, and will not treat dental disease.

Tooth brushing

So what do we recommend?  Well, the gold standard of at-home dental care is brushing your pet’s teeth.  We have a great handout at Twin Maples that goes over a step-by-step approach to getting your dog or cat acclimated to having their teeth brushed (ask about it at your next visit!).  We also carry sets of starter kits for toothbrushes and toothpastes for pets at Twin Maples.  Here are a few basic things to know:

  • Never brush teeth in a diseased mouth.  It is recommended to start either with a healthy mouth (ideally, once all adult teeth are in), or 2 weeks after a dental cleaning (all sutures should be dissolved before brushing is started, and the mouth healed).
  • If using a human toothbrush, use a soft-bristle brush.
  • Never use human toothpaste as the fluoride can make your pet sick.
  • Pick a flavor of toothpaste you think your pet will like; there are a variety (ie mint, poultry, seafood, etc).
  • The goal is to spend at least 30 seconds brushing the outer surfaces of all teeth at least once daily.

Other options

While we all recommend brushing your pet’s teeth, we also understand that brushing teeth daily can be tedious.  And so there are other options for owners who cannot brush their pet’s teeth.   There are a number of products on the market that are labeled for plaque and tartar prevention, including some prescription diets.  Here at Twin Maples, we carry our favorite water additive for plaque prevention and chews for tartar prevention for our clients’ convenience (ask us about them!).   A good website to visit for dental products is the www.vohc.org.   The VOHC seal is based on certain standards, so if you see a product that has the VOHC seal, you can rest assured that it is safe and effective!  Visit their product page to see all products awarded the seal, and whether they are available from veterinarians or over-the-counter.

What about toys, bones, etc?

Some toys can also be helpful for chewing to help prevent tartar in dogs.  We always recommend speaking to one of us at Twin Maples first about what would be an appropriate toy for chewing for your dog.  For example, a rope toy may be a good idea for one dog, but another dog may decide he wants to eat the toy rather than just chew on it/play with it.  There are some items we never recommend allowing a pet to chew on, and those include real animal bones, antlers, hooves, and Nylabones.  These items are all hard enough that we have seen numerous pets break their teeth while chewing them, resulting often in the need for an extraction on an otherwise healthy tooth (or referral for a root canal!).  We have also seen animals ingest hoof portions in large chunks, causing intestinal obstruction and need for surgery.  A general rule of thumb: if you tap your knee with it and it hurts, it is too hard for your pet to be chewing on.

What’s the take home message?

While we all love dentistry here at Twin Maples, we would love to see more pets coming in for just a routine evaluation and cleaning, rather than having our dog and cat friends needing multiple tooth extractions.  It is better for your pet and better for your pocketbook!  We want you to be informed about all the safe and effective options you have the ability to use for dental health preventative care at home.  We would love to speak to you more about what we offer; please call us at 937-866-5949.

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