February is Pet Dental Health Month!

Did you know that February is Pet Dental Health Month?

In honor of that, I thought I’d start my (ever) first blog discussing home care for your pet’s teeth.

The goal of dental home care is to prevent the slow, what I call “run of the mill” dental disease.  Specifically, managing the accumulation of plaque causing bacteria and the progression to tartar buildup, gum disease and periodontal disease.

Do’s of brushing:

  • Brush your pet’s teeth.  Do it every day or (at minimum) every other day.  Anything less is ineffective.
  • Use a good quality brush.  In my experience most brushes sold for pets are inferior to the brush that you probably are using for yourself.  The only exception are cat toothbrushes (http://www.virbacvet.com/products/detail/c.e.t.-cat-toothbrush-with-toothpaste-packet) Extra soft bristles with small heads or brushes for toddlers are great.  In general thimble type brushes are not very effective, especially the all rubber types.  Make sure to replace the brush every 3-4 months.
  • Use a toothpaste if you want but it’s not essential.  Make sure it’s a toothpaste for pets.  Human toothpastes can be harmful and in some cases, can be deadly (xylitol containing pastes)
  • Train your dog to accept a toothbrush.  Remember that training takes time and requires a lot of positive re-enforcement.

Don’t of brushing: 

  • Don’t force the teeth brushing against your pet’s will.  If you stress your pet out with your first attempts, you will probably never get to try a second time.  Start small, give lots of praise, treats, basically anything to let your dog know what the silver lining is.
  • Don’t worry about being perfect.  Round brushstrokes and brushing the inside surfaces are great in theory but in practice, easier said than done.  Keep it simple and keep it positive.
  • Don’t brush too hard.  You don’t want to cause gum damage.
  • Don’t have unreasonable expectations.  A toothbrush cannot replace a dental scaler and a toothbrush is a preventative tool.  If your dog or cat has heavy tartar buildup, gum disease or recessed gums, the toothbrush won’t remedy those.
  • Don’t brush diseased teeth.  This may sound simple but dental disease can be very hard to find.  If your pet has gum disease or worse, periodontal disease, brushing may be painful.  Can you imagine what you would think of teeth brushing if it hurt every time you did it?

The question often comes up, “Is there any toy, treat or other product which can replace brushing?”

The simple answer to the question is “NO!”  The slick marketers want you to believe that to be true but it’s at your pet’s peril.  Just ask your dentist if there’s anything you could chew on that could replace your toothbrush.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t any good products which can assist in maintaining good dental health.  Although these are mostly useful as adjuncts to brushing, they can be helpful especially for those pets who will not permit tooth brushing.

When I go to the pet stores, I see a lot of products which make a lot of claims.  Buyer beware!.  Most of these products have absolutely no scientific verification of their claims.  Fortunately, there is a program which validates veterinary dental health products (http://vohc.org/accepted_products.htm).  When you’re reviewing these products, pay special attention to the VOHC claim.  It’s always preferable to choose a product which has a plaque claim, even if it doesn’t have a tartar claim.  Products without a plaque claim must be considered inferior to those with a tartar claim only.  Please ensure that you are using these products according to their manufacturer instructions.

And what about bones, antlers and hard plastic bones?

It seems so natural for us to give our pets (especially dogs) bones to chew on and unquestionably it’s a normal thing for a dog to want to do.

At risk of riding the fence on this one, I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do.  Although I can’t direct you to any studies showing that dogs who chew on bones have cleaner teeth, I think it’s quite likely that bones and antlers do help to prevent plaque and tartar accumulation.


I like to invoke Newton’s Third Law of motion which states “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Which means that that whatever force your dog applies to the bone/antler, that force is being applied right back on the tooth.  If your dog is chewing on these items, they are at risk of fracturing and bruising teeth.  Bruised teeth are at risk of pulpitis (http://www.dentistvet.com/discolored-teeth-pulpitis.html). Fractured teeth with pulp cavity exposure is painful and by definition it’s infected even if there’s no associated abscess (http://www.dentistvet.com/tooth-breaks-and-fractures.html).  In either of these scenarios, either root canal therapy or extraction is necessary.  It’s not appropriate to leave these conditions fester.

I really like Kong products for their relative durability, safety and enjoyability (https://www.kongcompany.com/).

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