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Dental Disease Prevention

Mark Downing, DVM

The best way to prevent dental disease is to brush your dog or cats teeth frequently.  Brushing removes the bacteria and plaque that cause periodontal disease and should be done once daily to be most effective.  When done properly, brushing your pets teeth can actually build the bond between you and your friend.  The best time to start training your dog or cat to have its teeth brushed is early in life, but this doesn’t mean that older pets are a lost cause.

Several principles should be followed when instituting a home dental care program.  First, be sure to purchase pet safe toothpaste.  Human toothpastes have additives that are not meant to be swallowed.  Pet toothpastes also come in flavors that cats and dogs are more likely to find pleasant.  You will also need a soft bristled brush for the task.  Several companies make brushes for pets and though not required can make the task much easier.  Lastly, be patient and avoid the urge to pin down your cat or dog to have its teeth brushed.

Begin by setting 5-10 minutes aside at the end of the day to sit and bond with your dog and cat.  During the first four to five days, simply offer lots of attention and love.  Try to make them happy and comfortable with the attention.  Once you feel they are used to the routine, you can start offering the toothpaste on your finger as a tasty treat.  Resist the urge to do any brushing; at this point.  As they get more at ease you should start trying to gently lift the lip to allow visualization of the teeth.  Remember to go easy and don’t do anything that will make your pet uncomfortable.  This should be continued for several days until lifting of the lip becomes second nature.  Finally, try putting the toothpaste in the bristles of the brush and allow them to lick at the brush.  This will get them get used to the feeling of the brush in their mouth.  Within a couple of days you can start to gently brush the front teeth.  Don’t worry about getting all the teeth during the first few weeks, with patience you will be able to increase the duration of each session and your pet should learn to enjoy this time with you.  Also you will not need to brush the inside surface if the teeth.

Brushing is the best way to decrease the frequency of professional dental cleanings that are needed throughout the life of your friend.  It has the potential to increase the length and quality of life.