the importance of brushing your pet's teeth

Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Feb 15 2012

For us, daily tooth brushing removes the daily buildup of plaque that accumulates on the surface of our teeth. Our pets are susceptible to plaque buildup, as well. Plaque and bacteria build up at the gum line, and over time, this plaque turns into calculus. Calculus is hard and brownish-tan in color, and when it accumulates at the gum line, it causes the irritation known as gingivitis.

Calculus is full of bacteria, and when this bacteria seeps up under the gums, it also causes infection and loosens the attachment of the teeth to the gums. Gingival redness, bad breath and loose teeth are hallmarks of periodontal disease, but signs don’t have to be so obvious for your pet to have dental disease. To top it all off, when the bacteria comes into contact with irritated gums, it can enter the blood stream, spreading to the liver, heart and kidneys.

So, what’s a pet parent to do? Well, the very best thing to do is to start brushing your pet’s teeth. If your pet is a youngster, getting into this habit early makes your life a heck of a lot easier in the long run. Not only will your pet be used to the brushing routine, but she will also enjoy a life of better dental health and reduce the risk of developing dangerous dental disease - which can put a real hole in your family budget without Petplan pet insurance.

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If your pet has a few years under her belt, start by discussing her current dental health with your vet. If dental disease is present, it’s best to address it first. Your veterinarian will perform what is known as a “dental” to adequately assess your pet’s dental health and correct any problems, as well as clean each tooth thoroughly. We’ll go over what happens during a dental procedure in a future blog this month.

How to Brush Your Pet's Teeth

After having a thorough cleaning, your older pet is now ready to begin having her teeth brushed at home. Don’t fret – it’s not as bad as you think it will be. Start slowly, and over time, you’ll wonder what you were so worried about! There are many ways to try to brush your pet’s teeth. The mainstay of tooth brushing involves the mechanical removal of daily plaque buildup. This can be achieved by using a pet tooth brush, but many people find a bristled finger brush makes the job a little easier. Pick up some toothpaste from your veterinarian – these are made specifically for pets, featuring flavors like poultry and fish (sounds gross to us, but they love it!). And yes, some pet toothpastes contain ingredients such as sorbitol, which can have a laxative effect - but that is not usually an issue unless it is consumed in large doses.

Technically, you should brush your pet’s teeth twice a day for the best results. I am a realist, though, and I know that not all of us have the luxury of that much time. I just tell my clients to do their very best. Aim for twice a day, but any tooth brushing is better than no tooth brushing.

Stay tuned for a few more blogs on dental health this month, and take the time now to peek into your pet’s mouth and see how it looks in there. If you spy (or smell) trouble, it’s time to high tail it to the vet for a thorough dental exam.

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