Most people are very aware of their own teeth. We know about plaque control, cavity prevention and the social evils of bad breath. Most people also visit their dentist regularly. Despite this awareness of human dentistry, many pet owners do not realize their animals are subject to the same problems.
We care for our pet’s teeth for the same reason we care for our own. The most common disease in pet animals is periodontal disease. They are also subject to broken teeth, orthodontic problems and even cavities. All of these problems will affect your animals mouth, obviously, but can also lead to the infections that introduce bacteria into other parts of the body. In other words, bad teeth can lead to a sick animal. Evidence continues to mount that chronic infection or inflammation in any part of the body can have serious negative impact on the systemic health.
Many owners tell us that they did not notice any change in their animals behavior, so they assumed they were fine. This isn’t surprising. Our pets are ultimately descended from wild animals. It does a wild animal no good to advertise the fact that it is sick, or to stop eating because its teeth hurt. Most animals simply adopt a stoic attitude to chronic pain. But if you’ve ever had a chronic tooth ache, you know the meaning of pain. Studies have shown that dogs and cats have pain thresholds that are almost identical to humans.
The first step is to look in your pet’s mouth, on a regular basis. If the gums appear red or inflamed, if there’s a foul odor, if you see pus at the gum line or broken teeth–see your veterinarian right away. he or she will asses the problem and formulate a treatment plan.
The long term solution is to look after your pet’s teeth with regular brushing and checking–just like you do with your own.
Dental homecare is preventative maintenance. It cannot correct a problem once one has developed. Moreover, if there is a painful condition in the mouth, brushing will be very unpleasant for the animal and we do not want that. Therefore, a homecare program should only be started after a very thorough oral evaluation to ensure that there are no problems that need treatment prior to starting brushing.
The goal with a homecare program is to be brushing your pet’s teeth on a daily basis to remove plaque before it becomes firmly attached to the tooth surface and before it mineralizes to become tartar. Plaque will form on a clean tooth within hours and can start to form tartar within a few days. Therefore brushing daily will be far more effective than doing it two or three times a week. Doing it less than every other day actually provides no benefit.
When starting a homecare program, it is important to start slowly, letting your pet get use to each new phase before moving to the next. By introducing the program in small, easy to accept steps, and by including lots of positive reinforcement, most pets will come to truly enjoy having their teeth brushed. This is neither a contest nor a race. Take it as slowly as necessary to avoid upsetting your pet; because once they decide they do not like what you are doing, it will take a long time to overcome that.