Now that you’ve learned all about periodontal disease and why we DON’T want our pets to suffer from it, here are some preventative therapies that can ensure your pets have the healthiest teeth and gums ever! Any of these treatments can be done alone or in combination with others (i.e. brushing and using a dental diet together). However, just like with humans, no preventative therapy is as useful as a professional clean – that is still the gold standard for oral care.
Not all products are equally as effective, so look for products with the VOHC seal (Veterinary Oral Health Council) as they have been evaluated by an independent council for efficacy against plaque and tartar.
Brushing is hands down the best thing at home that you can do for your pet’s teeth for two reasons:
1) You can reach the front teeth to brush away plaque, a place that dental chews and diets are not very effective at reaching.
2) Having your hands and eyes in your pet’s mouth means you will see potential problems much earlier, and gives your vet the opportunity to intervene and save more teeth over time.
We have accepted in society that we must brush our teeth at least twice daily for optimal oral health, but for some reason, we do not include our pets in this household ritual. Myself included, have been guilty of “not finding the time” and forgetting, and before you know it, months have passed between brushings. Getting into good habits early on is the best way to keep up with a dedication to brushing. Once your pet is used to brushing it should take no longer than 2 minutes at a time, and that should be the time that we can all find once in our busy days.
Teaching your pet to accept brushing does take some time and patience at the beginning. It might just start with putting your finger on their cheek for 2 seconds and then praise them and offer a reward. This could be repeated every day for a week. The following week could be a finger with a dab of toothpaste on it daily. The next week could be an introduction to the feeling of the toothbrush swiping around the mouth daily. Then putting toothpaste on the brush and working your way up to be effective on the teeth is the goal. This plan may take a month to achieve but establishing that habit for you and them could save hundreds of dollars if you can extend periods of time between professional cleanings (and potentially costly tooth extractions from diseased teeth).
Picking a time of day that you are least likely to forget (when you are brushing your teeth? Right after work?) helps to remember. Getting all the family involved as well (kids will help with reminding when they are brushing their teeth before bed) also helps everyone to be responsible. Veterinary toothpaste comes in a variety of flavours so you can experiment and see which your pet prefers.
Water additives have special enzymes in them that help breaks down bacteria and plaque that can form on teeth. They are a good option for pets who will not accept brushing or may have a unique diet that cannot be changed to a dental diet or allow dental chews. Drinking the water with the additive in it means that all the areas of the mouth have contact with the product. The liquids need to be added to a larger volume of water first which is kept in the fridge and then given to the pet over a period of time. If your pet is not a big drinker (as many cats are not), it may not be the most effective product for them.
Dental chews include any rawhides and treats that are specially formulated either by their ingredients (enzymes to break down plaque) or their shape/texture to keep teeth clean. They are usually given daily or several times a week to be effective. If your pet has special diet considerations, please ask your Veterinarian if any chew is right for your pet.
For many years now there have been special diets that are designed to be fed every day to help clean plaque and tartar off teeth. These are available for both cats and dogs and are amazingly effective at keeping teeth healthy in between professional cleanings. These diets work because of the shape and texture of the kibbles that allow the tooth to sink down into the kibble before the kibble breaks down into smaller pieces. As the tooth penetrates the kibble, it scrapes the edges of the tooth; scrubbing away plaque and tartar. The only drawback to dental diets is the fact that they need chewing action to clean the teeth, so the back teeth tend to get most of the benefit and not as much the front incisor teeth. As with the dental chews if your pet has specific dietary needs check with your Veterinarian to see if that is a good choice for your pet.
Written by Stephanie Ferguson, RVT