Should I Really Brush My Pet’s Teeth?

This is a common response of many pet owners upon first hearing this suggestion. As the relationship between oral health and systemic disease becomes clearer we as the caretaker of our pets have this added responsibility.  In the realm of steps we can take to prolong and improve our pets’ lives,  tooth brushing is  one of the most important strides we can take.  Although using a brush is better than using your finger, the application of any antibacterial or enzymatic spray or gel is of the utmost importance in order to reduce the bacterial population of the oral cavity.  By lowering the bacterial count we significantly reduce the speed with which tartar or calculus form on the teeth.  The likelihood of gingivitis and periodontal disease is also lessened. Below is an instruction sheet which clearly illustrates the process.

Dental Disease

Studies show that up to 80% of pets suffer from dental disease. Dental disease leads to fractured teeth, inflamed painful gums, abscesses, and other oral problems.  The bacteria from a diseased mouth can easily spread throughout the body causing heart, kidney and liver disease.

Dental Care

Daily dental care is required to prevent or slow the progression of dental disease. Optimal care includes daily brushing, specialized toothpaste, a crunchy diet and appropriate chew treats and toys.Plaque, a film of bacteria, collects on teeth daily.  Untreated plaque hardens into calculus (tartar) within 36 hours. Plaque can easily be removed by brushing whereas the removal of calculus requires an anesthetic dental procedure. Hand scaling, as is often done by a groomer, is not recommended. It leaves scratches on the tooth surface that promote calculus buildup; it doesn’t clean calculus below the gum line; and the pet may inhale bacteria laden calculus during the process. Depending on the dental care and the oral chemistry of a pet’s mouth, an occasional veterinary cleaning may be required.

The Plan: Toothbrush and Toothpaste

Once you and your pet fall into the routine of brushing, it can take less than 30 seconds a day.  Store you toothbrush and toothpaste in a convenient place, such as near the pet food or treats, so they are easy to access.

What to Brush

The inside surfaces of your pet’s teeth are cleaned mechanically by chewing, and you do not need to brush these areas.  Brush only the outside (cheek) surfaces of the teeth.  Dental calculus (tartar) tends to collect most severely on the upper back teeth first.  Focus on these during brushing.

How to Brush

Create a routine. Choose a regular time for brushing, for example after the first morning walk or the evening meal.   Ease into the process. You may need to allow some time for your pet to become comfortable with the concept. If your pet is shy or anxious over a toothbrush, start with your finger or a wet piece of gauze.  Initially place the wet toothbrush (finger, wet gauze, etc) inside your pet’s cheek.  Then work toward moving the object over the teeth.  When your pet accepts the object begin with soft circular motions along the surface of the teeth. Working from back to front, make small circles with the toothbrush angled slightly upward so the bristles clean under the gums.  The ultimate goal is to spend only 10 seconds on each side of the mouth. It should take you less than 30 seconds a day to brush your pet’s teeth.

The Toothpaste

Enzymatic pet toothpaste can be applied to the tooth brush prior to brushing or directly to the teeth following brushing.  The toothpaste actively prevents dental disease by killing bacteria in the mouth, and most pets consider it a flavored treat.  If applying toothpaste separately, place a small amount on your finger and quickly rub it over the outside tooth surfaces.

Do not use human toothpaste. The natural impulse of a pet is to swallow toothpaste. Consumption of human toothpaste can cause gastrointestinal distress.  If occasionally your pet is not cooperative for all aspects of cleaning, something is better than nothing, and any of the above steps will be beneficial.