Many animal owners suffer from the problem of tartar buildup on their pet’s teeth. Some animals of the same species develop tartar much more quickly than others. This may mean that one dog needs a professional anesthetic dental cleaning every 2-3 years and another dog may need one every 6-8 months! Some animals develop periodontal disease at a faster rate than others as well, meaning that the gums pull away from the teeth that become loosened from their boney attachments. This can lead to pain, tooth loss, infection or abscess.
Unfortunately, I can find no hard evidence to validate the claim that eating cheese will help reduce tartar levels in the mouth. So my fondness for cheese has not kept the dentist at bay. There are, however, lots of things you as a pet owner can do at home to prolong the period of time before Fluffy needs to be fully sedated for thorough teeth cleaning.
To start lets review some terms and concepts. Plaque is a film of bacteria that accumulates on your teeth – which is the wooly feeling your teeth get after you’ve eaten a lot of sweets and haven’t brushed your teeth in a while. Gross right? Well if that bacteria isn’t removed it hardens (calcifies) and turns into tartar, which is the yellowish brown coating on your pet’s teeth that tips your veterinarian off that it is time for a cleaning. If left in place over time that tartar and bacteria party leads to bad breath, gum disease (gingivitis), tooth decay, periodontal disease, tooth root abscesses and the potential for that bacteria to get into the blood stream and cause problems in other organs like the heart, kidney, and liver. The hardened tartar is difficult to remove and often requires specialized equipment to scrape it off like dental picks and the ultrasonic scaler. We use the same equipment as your dentist to clean your pet’s teeth. Full anesthesia is required to complete a dental cleaning because once we clean off the tartar we polish the teeth smooth to remove tiny microscopic crevices for the plaque to grab a hold of. Pets do not tolerate having this done awake.
At home dental care is a huge part of prolonging the period between dental cleanings at the vet’s office. Often in older animals, we need to get the heavy tartar off to get a clean slate for you, the owner, to maintain. Young dogs should be introduced early to home dental hygiene to keep their teeth as healthy as possible and stave off the need for the full dental cleanings as long as possible.
The plaque on teeth is very easily disrupted by mechanical action. This is best accomplished by a soft toothbrush and daily brushing of all teeth. Think about wooly teeth and how much fresher you feel after good teeth scrubbing. All dogs will eventually tolerate teeth brushing, but slowly introducing it over weeks in a very positive way is key to the fastest acceptance. Make sure to get primarily the outside of the teeth as that is where the majority of the plaque accumulates. Get all of the teeth from the little incisors up front, the long sharp canine teeth, to the all the premolars and molars that go way back in the cheeks. Repetition and patience, as with any training, is key to getting your pet’s acceptance.
Daily tooth brushing is the gold standard of home dental health. However, knowing that we don’t live in an ideal world where everyone brushes their dog’s and cat’s teeth nightly. Luckily, there are other products you can use to help. There are antiseptic rinses and gels and water additives the goal of these products is to reduce the amount of bacteria from your pet’s mouth. Safe chews, treats, and pet foods are available that contain both enzymes to break down bacteria and/or a mechanical action against the tooth as the pet chews to shear off plaque. Check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s (VOHC) seal of acceptance to find products proven to decrease plaque and tartar accumulation by going to www.VOHC.org and clicking on “Products awarded the VOHC Seal” link. Your veterinarian will also have a lot of good advice, ideas and references.
The American Veterinary Dental Council (AVDC) does not recommend cow hooves, dried natural bones or antlers, or hard nylon products because they are too hard. Instead of helping to shear off tartar like a wild animal would get from a fresh carcass, these products often damage the pet’s teeth. The result is often a fractured and very painful tooth that requires surgical removal. Rawhide and other “edible” dental product should be used with care. Give these products when you are around to ensure that a big piece isn’t swallowed or choked on. It may be necessary to remove a large chunk from an exuberant eater’s throat. It is also possible for large chunks to get stuck in dog’s esophagus or intestines that may require endoscopic or surgical removal, so make sure you pick a sized product appropriate for your pet. Reasons that you should have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian include: particularly foul breath, excessive drooling, swelling or oozing, pawing at or rubbing the face, difficulty eating, discolored, painful or broken teeth. Your vet is your ally and a great resource for your war on plaque and tartar. Pleasant teeth brushing! May yours and your pet’s smile be bright!