cheat sheet: alternatives to daily brushings

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Posted by Dr. Ernie Ward on Aug 28 2013


Confession: I don’t brush my pets’ teeth every day. Some days, I’m lucky if I brush my own. This doesn’t make me a bad pet parent; it means I’m under the same life pressures as many of my clients. I don’t believe in veterinarians asking pet parents to do something they themselves don’t do. And while I may not wield the pet toothbrush every day, I do take good care of my pets’ mouths. That’s what I’m going to tell you how to do, minus the burden of daily brushing.

But before I offer alternative teeth cleaning choices, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that honestly, there’s no substitute for breaking out the toothbrush each day. Even once a week is better than never – though still nowhere as good as daily. When life gets in the way, however, here are some quick fixes for keeping pets’ teeth healthy.

Antimicrobial Mouth Rinses

The real cause of periodontal disease is bacteria. Too many of the wrong kind and before you know it your pet has tartar, plaque, calculus, gingivitis and ultimately, periodontal disease. If you can limit bacterial overgrowth by using oral rinses, you potentially reduce oral problems, and increase the overall health of your pet. I prefer rinses that contain chlorhexidine and zinc gluconate, both potent inhibitors of bacteria and plaque. The bottle we use has a super convenient application spout that allows me to squirt the solution far back along the gums without having to pry back lips or teeth.

Specially-Formulated Dental Treats

Another thing I’m never too busy for is giving my pets healthy yummies. Every couple of days, I reward my dogs with treats specially formulated to help reduce plaque. While certainly not as effective as brushing and rinsing, these functional treats have been proven to help keep teeth clean. Look for products certified by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). These modern marvels of bite-sized preventive goodness are definitely an option to ask your veterinarian about.

Plaque Prevention Gels

When used after a dental cleaning, this is one of the better options for busy pet owners who want to provide the best care in the least amount of time. Apply the gel weekly using a soft swab applicator. It’s incredibly simple and fast, and you can use rinses, treats, dry food, and even brush your pet’s teeth without worry of affecting the protective barrier. This innovative solution is clinically proven to reduce those problem bacteria from adhering to the tooth’s surface, lessening the chances of plaque accumulation.

Finally, the one thing every pet owner can and should do is have their pet’s teeth cleaned by their veterinarian at yearly. Even if you can’t brush, rinse, give treats or apply gels, you can take your pet to the veterinarian for professional teeth cleaning. An annual dental cleaning, weekly gel applications, the occasional dental treat, and daily rinses are important components of my recipe for fresh breath, sparkling teeth, and a long and healthy life for my pets.