What can I do to improve my dog’s dental health?
Good oral health is one of the most important, and most commonly overlooked, aspects of your pet’s overall health. Poor oral health can lead to blood borne bacterial infections that can cause disease or worsen pre-existing conditions. It can also cause undetectable pain that leads to premature aging of your pet.
Here’s a quick course in dental disease: plaque is a thin film of sticky bacteria, and is composed of saliva components and food. It sticks to the teeth and can form in as little as 24-48 hours. Plaque needs to be manually removed; it won’t wash off with a rinse of water. If the plaque is not removed, it mineralizes and becomes calculus (tartar). It takes two weeks for calculus must also be manually removed, which is best done by a professional with specialized tools, and generally require an anesthetic. So how can you prevent – or at least reduce – Sparky’s visit to the veterinarian for dental cleanings? They key is brushing!
People brush their teeth at least twice daily to keep plaque at bay (and yes, doggie plaque is the same as people plaque). To best maintain your dog’s oral health, you need to brush their teeth at least once a day. Make sure you choose a toothbrush that is the appropriate size for your pet. Toothpastes meant for human use contain higher concentration of fluoride and chemicals that can be toxic to your pets if swallowed (since they are not going to spit or rinse while they brush). Always use a product that is meant for dogs; preferably one that contains a natural abrasive and antibacterial properties (to reduce the bacteria that leads to tartar).
“But I give him dental treats”, you say? Dental bones or chew treats are great, but are not substitutes for regular brushing. (Just like an apple might be “nature’s toothbrush” but you really wouldn’t give up brushing your teeth in place of eating an apple a couple of times each day!) There is strong evidence to support the use of dental treats and resilient products (aka “indestructible toys”) to promote chewing and lessen the formation of plaque and calculus. The results are best when the treats or toys are used in conjunction with regular brushing. And remember, any of these treats and chew toys – even the ones that claim to be indestructible can become swallowing hazards. Always supervise Fluffy when she’s chewing her favorite dental treats.
Speaking of chewing, you might think you can skip brushing for your kibble-fed dog, because all that crunchy food cleans his mouth, right? Wrong! Dogs don’t always chew their kibble, rather, they swallow it whole! So any potential abrasion from crunchy kibble is lost down the hatch before it ever had a chance to help the teeth clean.
Include your veterinarian in your dog’s dental health, it is key to keeping him healthy throughout his life. In some cases, even routine brushing cannot keep dental disease away, and professional intervention becomes necessary to prolong the health of your pet’s mouth and their overall health. Make sure your veterinarian performs regular dental exams, and inform him or her of any changes you might notice in your dog’s mouth, including broken, discolored, or missing teeth. By following these simple steps, your pet can achieve optimum oral health; one important step toward a long term and healthy life.