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Pam Lesch R.N, M.S.N., PhD



When I discuss the various health care needs with pet owners the area that I find to be the most neglected is Dental Care.  This is not a purposeful neglect in my opinion, but rather a neglect that occurs from the owner having lack of information or education on the need for proper and consistent dental care for their pet.  And so with this said, my goal in writing this article is to educate and inform the pet owner on dental care and itís importance so that we can keep our pets as healthy as possible, so that they will be around for us to love and enjoy and cherish for as long as possible.


An owner of a new puppy obviously has the best opportunity to establish a dental hygiene routine in their pet right from the very start, but it is never too late to start a dental routine and your pet will thank you for your efforts and so will your Vet!


If routine dental care is not carried out, periodontal disease will develop and it is a very common malady in older dogs.  Periodontal disease will cause bad breath, and can lead to serious infections and even death in some circumstances.  Even if your pet is no longer a puppy and you donít do routine dental care, it is never too late to start, so letís learn about dental care!


A dental exam by your Vet will help direct you in the right direction, he/she will be the best one to guide you as to whether your pet needs scaling, cleaning, polishing, or a dose of antibiotics if there is evidence of infection (periodontal disease).  If your pet does need a through cleaning and he/she most likely will, your Vet will most likely have to give your pet general anesthesia to do the cleaning properly.  Again your Vet will be the best one to guide you here.


At home your dental care routine or regimen should consist of a regular brushing of your petís teeth, a proper diet of a crunchy kibble that is specially formulated to help prevent plaque and tarter buildup and regular visual inspection of your petís mouth to check for chipped teeth, infected areas, or any area or tooth that looks unusual, (when looking make sure you check up between the gum and the soft inner lip of the mouth for hidden objects, burrs, thorns, leaves etcÖ) and most importantly scheduling your pet for a yearly dental exam that includes cleaning, scaling and removal of plaque and tarter by your Vet.


You can purchase toothbrushes that are specially shaped to fit your petís mouth at your local pet food store or through your Vet (if you would prefer), the toothpaste that you use to clean your petís teeth with is a paste that is made just for dogs and cats and is flavored to appeal the them, you should not use human toothpaste as it will upset your dogís stomach. 


Once you have gathered your supplies, the toothbrush and the paste the next step is to get your pet used to having his or her teeth brushed.  If your pet is familiar with you putting your hands in his mouth and examining the mouth, brushing the teeth will not be difficult.  But if your pet is not used to having your hands in his mouth you will most likely need to introduce this ďnewĒ concept to your pet gradually over time, patience is the key to success.  A good way to start is by wrapping a soft washcloth around your finger and after applying some of the paste gently rub your cloth-covered finger around the gums, teeth and so onÖuntil your pet will accept the brush in his mouth.


Once you have your pet accepting the toothbrush as a familiar object then the next step is to establish a routine, and you do this much the same way that you have your own dental care routine, or you have your childrenís routines established.  Consistency is paramount in keeping the plaque monster away, so you should brush your petís teeth daily if at all possible, and if not daily, you should do it at least 3 times a week (according to the American Veterinary Dental Society).


If you have children that are old enough and interested and willing to help out with this aspect of pet care, it is a great way to encourage interaction and teach responsibility between your child and your pet, but as with all things adult supervision is necessary.


There are several products on the market right now that you can add to your petís water that proclaim to help reduce the amount of tarter and plaque buildup on the teeth, if you are interested in any of these products, it is best to discuss them with your Vet before adding them to your petís diet. Bottled water, not tap water, will greatly help reduce the amount of plaque and tarter build up though.


Above all it is important to remember that prevention is the key, and that oral infections, if left unnoticed or untreated can infect other organs, such as the heart, the brain, the spine, the kidneys and the liver.  The bacteria and toxins from the periodontal disease enter the bloodstream and carry infection to all parts of the body, and according to statistics, 80 percent of dogs have some sign of periodontal disease by the age of 3, and small dog breeds are more likely to develop gum disease because the teeth are closer together in small breeds then the teeth of larger dogs are.


And so in closing I would like to add that ďTotal Pet HealthcareĒ really begins with proper dental care and as pet owners we need to make dental care a priority.






And most of all, take your petís dental care to heart, it is one way to


ensure good health and a long life for your best friend.