Periodontal disease is one of the most common and serious pet health problems, affecting approximately 80% of dogs and 70% of cats by age 3. At-home prevention is as important as regular teeth cleaning by veterinarians. In fact, unless pet owners provide teeth cleaning for dogs and cats at home, periodontal disease will progress regardless of the care provided by veterinarians. Periodontal disease often results in tooth and gum infections, pain, loss of teeth and even organ damage in pets. Studies have shown that dogs with severe periodontal disease have more damage in their kidneys, heart muscle and liver than dogs without periodontal disease. This organ damage occurs when bacteria from the infected tooth roots and gums gain access to the blood stream (a condition called bacteremia). The key to management of gum disease (for humans or pets!) is prevention. As long as the surfaces of the teeth are cleaned frequently, the gums will stay healthy
Brushing your pets’ teeth at home
The gold standard for keeping gums healthy and plaque controlled in pets is twice daily tooth brushing. Each pet should have their own toothbrush and proper pet toothbrushes should have bristles to reach under the gum line. There are numerous cat and dog toothbrush sizes available to best fit your pets’ mouth. Human toothpaste contains detergents and should not be used in pets as they will swallow the paste. There are many cat and dog toothpaste flavors available and most pets seem to prefer the poultry-flavored types.
Proper brushing technique involves placing the toothbrush bristles at a 45 degree angle where the gum and teeth meet. Using a gentle oval pattern and covering three to four teeth at a time, the bristles should be moved around the teeth. Ten short oval motions should be completed before moving the toothbrush to a new location in the mouth. The outside upper teeth do the most chewing and should get more attention.
For best results, toothbrushing should start when pets are young and will easily adjust to teeth cleaning at home. As pets age and develop tooth and gum disease, there may be pain associated with brushing and pets may be less willing to allow brushing. If your pet is completely unwilling to allow brushing, there are dental wipes that can help control plaque when rubbed twice daily against the teeth and gums.
Veterinary teeth cleaning
In addition to daily tooth brushing, pets will intermittently require dental cleanings by their veterinarian to prevent periodontal disease from occurring. Veterinarians often perform fluoride treatments or apply plaque prevention gels that have a long-lasting plaque-fighting advantage. The frequency of these cleanings will depend on the success of the at-home dental care. They may be as frequent as every four to six months in a pet with severe periodontal disease or only every two to three years if a pet owner has been dedicated to maintaining their pets’ dental health at home.