Studies have shown that a significant number of cats and dogs over the age of three years have serious dental disease. One of the key ways to prevent dental disease is daily tooth brushing. Regular brushing removes plaque that can begin to accumulate within 12 hours of eating. Plaque is a film across the teeth, which contains bacteria. A build up of plaque can become calcified. Calcified plaque, or calculus, irritates the gums and can cause infection beneath the gum line. This deep infection can loosen the roots of teeth and may even spread to other parts of the body including the heart and kidneys.
Dental care at home needs to begin as early as possible. Start by gently getting the young animal used to having its mouth and face handled. Stroke under the chin, then gradually lift up the lips and insert your finger along the gum line. As most dental disease occurs on the outside surfaces of the teeth, don’t worry if your pet will not let you open its mouth to access the inside surfaces of the teeth.
Once your pet is used to having its mouth handled, a toothbrush can be introduced. Use a very soft baby’s toothbrush or a finger brush and work in small circular movements. Care needs to be taken not to scrub too vigorously, as pet gums – like ours – are sensitive to brush trauma. Owners should aim to brush teeth at least once a day after eating. The process can be made more pleasant by using pet-friendly flavoured toothpaste. Popular varieties include shrimp, poultry and beef flavour. A reward such as a bouncy game with a toy can also follow to complete the daily routine.
In addition to brushing, there are some excellent products on the market to help your pet’s teeth stay healthy and their breath sweet. Some foods are designed as a kibble with fibres arranged in such a way as to provide a good abrasive action on the teeth. There are special chews and mouthwashes containing antibacterial substances to help prevent the build up of plaque. Abrasive foods such as bones and rawhide chews can be used but, as there are potential complications with these products, owners should check with their vet first. Your pet’s annual check-up provides an excellent opportunity for your vet to check their teeth and locate troublesome areas.