Thanks to all the new preventable medicine we can count on, our pets live longer, healthier lives, so much so that now some of the most different medical issues pets can have are related to their dental health. Cleaning our pet's teeth routinely can make a huge difference in their health and well being. By routinely, I mean daily, but do not worry, once you get a hang of it, it should not take you more than a couple of minutes. Keep in mind, however, that even if you give them daily home cleaning, you should always take your pet to the vet at least once a year for a complete checkup, and if needed, a professional teeth cleaning.
Dogs and cats do not get cavities often, if at all, but they do get gum disease and tartar can build-up excessively on the teeth. That is the main reason to provide good dental care. Plaque is formed when food particles and bacteria accumulate along the gumlines. If plaque is not removed in 2 to 5 days, it turns into tartar, which gets adhered to the teeth and it's not as easy to remove. Tartar irritates the gums, and this is what causes gingivitis. You should check for reddening of the gums around the teeth and bad breath.
Once tartar has developed, the cleaning should be done by your vet who can remove the tartar and polish the teeth. Once the tartar builds up under the gums, it causes a separation of the gums from the teeth and forms pockets, where even more bacteria can grow. At this point they have developed periodontal disease. Besides being very painful, this can cause tooth loss, abscesses and infections. As the bacteria increases, it can even reach the bloodstream, which can cause an infection of the liver, the kidneys, or the heart valves. Only your veterinarian can stop the advance or stop the disease.
So, what kind of dental care should you provide your pets?
Take your pet to the vet for regular checks, which should include dental exams. Have their teeth cleaned by the vet at least once, and then follow up with routine home dental care. As I've said, your pet needs routine dental care at home, but for a good start, the teeth should be clean. If you've been taking care of their teeth since they were babies, maybe you are in good shape, but chances are you've neglected their teeth for a while.
If they have already developed tartar, it would be important to have it removed by a vet. To perform a cleaning, your vet will anesthetize your pet, take x-rays, and proceed with the cleaning. The tartar will be removed from above and below the gumline. Then their teeth will be polished to remove any scratches caused by the cleaning to avoid accumulation of bacteria. Then the vet will tell you the best dental care program for your pet.
Now that their teeth are clean, you should start looking for warning signs in their mouths: bad breath, red and swollen gums, tartar around the gumline, and pain or bleeding when you touch the gums or mouth.
Let's start with the food. Kibble is definitely better for your pet's dental health. Many foods have special properties to keep their teeth as clean as possible. There are also many treasures you can give them that will aid in removing plaque and prevent tartar build up, as well as toys made specifically to help in plaque removal.
Even when they eat the right kinds of food and play with the right toys, you need to brush their teeth every day. This is the most important preventive measure you can take.
How to brush your dog's teeth:
First, you have to get him used to the process if you have not done it before. Start by gently massaging his teeth and gums for a few seconds and see how he reacts. If the fusses, do not force him and try again the next day. In three or four tries, he should be more accustomed to your finger inside his mouth, so you can now progress to a brush. There are many types of brushes for dogs at your pet shop, and if it's a small dog, you might try with a piece of sterile gauze.
There are also special toothpastes for dogs with yummy tastes like chicken or liver. Never use human toothpaste! Pay attention to the big teeth in the back. Do not worry too much about the inside, but pay special attention to the outside surface of the teeth. You can do a couple of teeth a day if he does not like the process too much at first. Occasionally, he'll sit tight for the whole cleaning and you'll be able to do it in a couple of minutes.
How to brush your cat's teeth:
Again, you have to get you cat used to the feel of your finger in her mouth. Start just massaging her teeth and gums for a few seconds every day. There are special brushes for cats, but using a piece of gauze is very effective. If the size of the cat will permit it, you can use one of those plastic "finger brushes" made specifically for cats or dogs. I personally find them big for the size of my cats' mouths. You also do not have to worry too much about the inside, but do pay special attention to the outside surface of the teeth. Do get the flavored toothpaste in a yummy tuna flavor for them … or anything else they prefer. Your vet can also recommend a special sterile solution for cats.
If you do not have anything else handy, you can use a mix of baking soda and water, but very little. Never use human toothpaste! Of course, if you get your cat accustomed to her teeth cleaning when she's a kitten, the work will be much easier, but you can get any cat used to this with patience and love. If you find it impossible, you will have to take her to a vet to have her teeth cleaned. Do not put this off !! There are places where they will do it for little money if you have financial difficulties. Just remember, they are dependent on you for their health.