By Michelle Ferrera, DVM
Did you know that you can help take care of your pets teeth at home? Just like we brush our own teeth at home in between dental visits, you can do the same for your dog or cat!
The best time to condition your pet to toothbrushing is when they are young, but you can start about two weeks after dental cleaning. Do not try to brush the teeth of a dog with mouth pain or odor. You must see your veterinarian if dental disease is already present for appropriate treatment recommendations.
You have several options for home dental care. Some prefer a childs toothbrush. Some use an infant's finger brush. My favorite tool is a piece of gauze wrapped around my index finger. You use the brush or gauze to wipe the outer surfaces of your pets teeth – incisors, canines and cheek teeth. Don't worry about the surfaces close to the tongue, they are less prone to plaque sticking to them.
Pet toothpaste is available to help your pet accept the brush or gauze in their mouth, as it usually has a tasty flavor. Do not use human toothpaste in your pet as it contains fluoride. Pets do not know how to rinse and spit, and fluoride should not be swallowed. In addition, some human toothpaste contains xylitol, which is toxic to dogs. Only use toothpaste that is made for pets, but if you don't use toothpaste at all, this is also acceptable.
If your pet is young, you may notice that your gauze or brush stays fairly clean. Sometimes you may see a yellow residue. By removing the soft plaque before it turns hard, you are helping to delay the need for anesthetic dental cleaning. Anesthetic dental cleaning is the only way that your pet can have a thorough oral exam of both the crowns and beneath the gumline, as well as dental x-rays, scaling and polishing of all teeth including the tiny molars that are in the very back of your pets mouth, and extraction and suturing of severely diseased teeth.