BY DR. MARTY BECKER
You’ve heard for years now that you should be brushing your pet’s teeth, and chances are, all this reminder does is make you feel guilty. After all, more than a few veterinarians will quietly admit that they don’t have time to brush their own pets’ teeth, either.
But odds are that your veterinarian is staying on top of the oh-so-important regular dental examinations and cleaning under anesthesia with her own pets. If you’re not doing that with your pets, you may be reducing not only the length of your pets’ lives, but also their quality of life.
Studies have shown that any exercise is better for you than none at all, and the same is true when it comes to dental care for your pet: There’s a good, a better and a best in terms of caring for your pet’s teeth, and even the “good” will really help. It’s important to remember, though, that you need to start with a comprehensive dental exam to identify and treat issues for any of these strategies to be truly helpful.
A Place to Start: Chewing
The “good” of at-home care can start with a simple chew toy. Providing your pets with a variety of chews and chew toys can help to prevent the plaque buildup that leads to periodontal disease. Not just any chew will do: Veterinary dental specialists warn that chews that are too hard may break teeth, which is obviously counterproductive. How do you know if a chew is too hard? If it would hurt to have it hit your knee, it’s not something your pet should have in his mouth.
Ruling out too-hard chews leaves a lot of options, though, and your veterinarian can help you select those that are best for your pet, including chews impregnated with enzymatic solutions that will help prevent plaque from forming. There are also therapeutic foods available from your veterinarian that are designed to scrape the teeth clean as your pet chews.
Next Up: Rinsing (But No Spitting)
Move from “good” to “better” by adding a medicated rinse to your pet’s dental protocol. These products are commonly sold by your veterinarian, and they work by making the surface of the teeth a less friendly place for plaque. They also have antibacterial properties and will freshen that pungent doggy or kitty breath that we could all live without.
Some of these products are sprayed into your pet’s mouth, while others are added to his water. When combined with veterinary-recommended chews, you’re up to a one-two punch against dental disease without any real effort on your part.
Brushing Is Still Best
Yes, it’s time to talk about brushing. I actually am one of those veterinarians who walks the talk: Our pets get their teeth brushed regularly. And you know what? They love it! That’s because we don’t approach it like a chore, but rather as an opportunity for some one-on-one attention. We use a pet toothbrush, but you can also try a baby toothbrush, a finger brush or even gauze around your finger. Just be sure you’re using a toothpaste made for pets, because the kind humans use isn’t meant to be swallowed, and pets can’t spit.
Daily brushing is ideal, but if you can only manage a couple of times a week, you’ll still be doing very well by your pet. When you add brushing to chews, chew toys and medicated rinses … well, your pet’s teeth and gums will be in great shape for life. And on the bright side, at least you don’t have to floss!
There you have it: good, better and best. Start with a dental exam and your home care will be easy. And remember that anything you do to keep your pet’s teeth healthy can potentially help him have a better, longer life.