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preventing periodontal disease with pet dental home care

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Young girl brushing puppy's teeth at home
Posted by Dr. Aliya McCullough and Dr. Jennifer Maniet on Feb 13 2019

One of the most common conditions to plague our cats and dogs (often requiring costly tooth extractions) is periodontal disease — but the good news is that it’s preventable! Just like humans, pets require a combination of treatment (what’s known as a COHAT, or “comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment”) and prevention (dental home care) to help ensure good oral health and avoid extractions.  Below, we’ll address a few frequently asked questions about home dental care that will help you establish a good preventive oral health routine with your dog or cat.

Always consult with your veterinarian before starting any dental home care routine to develop a specific treatment and prevention program tailored to your pet’s health.

What is dental home care for my pet?

The goal of dental home care is to control plaque by tooth brushing — the mechanical action of brushing removes food particles and plaque from the tooth surface. Plaque forms in just hours (and becomes tartar within days), so brushing should be done as frequently as possible. It’s best to brush daily, but even brushing a few days a week is better than not at all.

Before you take brush to mouth, first allow your pet to become familiar with the handling involved so that they aren’t frightened. It will take some time and training to acclimate your pet to this new experience. Discuss the steps involved in establishing a tooth brushing routine with your veterinarian.

When do I start brushing?

The earlier the better! Incorporating tooth brushing with other training techniques during puppy- and kittenhood can help them become acclimated to the handling and process.

And what about those newly adopted adult dogs and cats? Don’t worry — you can teach an old pet new tricks! If they have existing dental disease, it’s best to start by getting a professional assessment and cleaning so your veterinarian can ensure there are no painful areas prior to brushing. If tooth extractions are required, wait until the gums heal before starting to brush.

Which toothbrush and toothpaste is right for my pet?

There are many over-the-counter brushes, so seek out the resources available to help you make the best choice. Your veterinarian can help you choose a toothbrush based on the shape and size of your pet’s mouth. Additionally, the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) evaluates and endorses veterinary dental products that meet the requirements for plaque and/or tartar control. VOHC recommends many types of toothbrushes including soft-bristle flat head toothbrushes (American Dental Association accepted) made for people.

It is important to only use toothpastes specially designed for pets, which are safe to swallow and will appeal to your pet’s flavor palate with choices such as poultry, beef, and seafood. Human toothpastes contain fluoride, foaming agents, abrasives, and other ingredients that are not safe for our pets to ingest or inhale.

What if I can’t brush my pet’s teeth? What are my other options?

Tooth brushing is best, but some pets may be head shy, won’t sit still, won’t tolerate the brush, or may present other behavioral challenges. For these pets, VOHC-accepted alternatives include prescription dental diets, dental chews, oral rinses, water additives, oral gels, and dental wipes which can all help to control bacteria and formation of plaque and tartar. Have a discussion with your veterinarian about the difficulties you are having and together you can develop a game plan.

Please note: all chew toys, food, and treats have the potential to create a risk for digestive system disorders. Always monitor your pet when they are chewing on a toy or edible product.

Maintaining good oral health is essential for pets to live long and healthy lives. Establish and stick with diligent dental home care routines in addition to annual oral health examinations and routine COHATs, to protect their pearly whites. Treating periodontal disease can be costly, which is why it’s important to protect your pet with pet health insurance offering comprehensive dental coverage!

Dr. Aliya McCullough and Dr. Jennifer Maniet are Staff Veterinarians and Pet Health Advocates at Petplan pet insurance.