By Dr. Alissa Stichler, DVM
Gold Standard: Brushing teeth
It is recommended to use a canine or feline toothbrush as they conform to a pet's mouth and teeth. You can use a human toothbrush but you will probably find it difficult to manipulate in the pet's mouth. Never use a human toothpaste for a pet as these contain sudsing agents (people like to see foam when they brush their teeth) which are not meant to be swallowed in quantity. Animal toothpastes come in special flavors (chicken, seafood, and malt) in addition to the more human-appreciated vanilla mint and all are expected to be swallowed.
Finger brushes are available and are smaller for puppies and kittens.
Studies have shown that brushing three times a week was adequate to maintain healthy teeth and gums but daily brushing was needed to control existing gingivitis.
Do's and Don'ts of Brushing your Pet's Teeth
Don't use human toothpaste on your pet.
Do use a toothbrush without any paste at first so that your pet may get used to the object in the mouth before having to contend with flavor.
Don't attempt to clean the inner surface of your pet's teeth. Natural saliva cleans this surface on its own.
Do try to perform dental home care at least once daily.
Don't perform dental home care during the first week after a full dentistry in the hospital as your pet's gums may be tender.
Don't consider dental home care as an alternative to full dental cleaning if your pet has more advanced dental disease.
Other dental products
Dental Wipes, Rinses and Pads
Some animals, especially those with tender gums, will not tolerate brushing but are more amenable to disinfecting wipes or pads. These products will wipe off plaque deposits from the surface of the tooth and, though they lack the ability to pick food particles out of the gum socket, they are probably the next best thing to brushing and, like brushing, these products are best used daily.
OraVet® Plaque Preventive Gel or Chews
These products address the convenience factor of pet dental care. Doing anything in a pet’s mouth daily year after year is a difficult habit for most people to establish. We have enough trouble taking care of our own teeth. Oravet is a wax-like substance applied once a week to the outer surface of the teeth with a swab (though it can be used even daily for pets with particularly bad gingivitis). Oravet prevents plaque from attaching to the tooth and provides a helpful mode of dental care on an easy to follow schedule. The dual-action approach of OraVet Chews doesn’t just clean teeth and freshen breath. It creates a barrier to help protect against plaque, calculus, and bad breath.
For many people, doing anything inside their pet’s mouth on a regular basis is simply never going to happen. Fortunately, all is not lost: chewing on a proper dental chew daily can substantially reduce plaque and tartar by up to 69%. Chews should be used daily in order to achieve these results; occasional use is not going to be helpful and the dog must actually chew on the treat.
Dental chews must be the proper size for the dog in question to avoid a choking hazard and can have sophisticated additional ingredients. Examples include ingredients to prevent mineralization of plaque (i.e. hexametaphosphate in C.E.T. Dentahex chews) or to prevent future plaque attachment after current plaque is rubbed off (delmopinol in Oravet brand chews), and green chlorophyll to help with bad breath.
Considerations: Use your judgment with chew toys. A chew can be readily swallowed in a large chunk and lead to intestinal obstruction. A pet with diseased teeth may break teeth on a hard chew. Cow hooves and bones are not appropriate chew toys as they are too hard and readily break teeth.