Dental disease is one of the most common problems in domestic animals and it is much more serious than most people realise. Dental disease can be painful, reduce a pet’s quality of life and lead to more serious health problems if left untreated.
The best way to deal with dental disease is preventative homecare. Veterinarians can perform a “scale and polish” under general anaesthesia and remove problem teeth, but without homecare the problem will recur, and it is not enough to “leave it to the vet” to deal with dental disease. Many veterinary dental procedures would not be necessary if pet owners had undertaken preventative home care measures. By implementing these preventative measures, you can save your pet from unnecessary discomfort, pain and disease, prevent an unnecessary general anaesthetic, and save yourself several hundred dollars as a bonus.
There are two ways in which you can minimise dental disease at home: chemical and mechanical. The Gold Standard in chemical homecare treatment is a solution called chlorhexidine, which is found in many dental rinses and gels. The Gold Standard in mechanical homecare is daily tooth brushing.
HOW TO BRUSH YOUR PET’S TEETH:
Ensure you have the right equipment. There are commercially available pet toothbrushes and finger brushes, or you can use a soft children’s toothbrush with a small head. Toothpaste must be a special pet toothpaste – don’t use human toothpaste to clean your pet’s teeth because it contains chemicals (such as fluoride) which can cause stomach upsets or a toxic reaction in your pet.
Young pets will accept brushing faster than older pets (and cats are generally more challenging than dogs) so beginning when your pet is young is best, but it is never too late to begin the process. It just requires patience and persistence.
- Practise with your pet just before a meal. The meal then becomes the reward and brushing becomes an accepted part of the meal routine
- Wash your hands before and after all contact with your pet’s mouth. When first introducing brushing, begin by touching your pet’s mouth and teeth with your fingers. Do this briefly and then give your pet verbal praise
- Place toothpaste on your finger and introduce this to your pet, allowing it to become familiar with the taste. Pet toothpastes generally come in tasty flavours such as chicken or salmon. The main benefit of toothpaste is to improve the experience for your pet, with an enjoyable taste (why else would they let you put something in their mouth?)
- Next, introduce the brush for brief periods. Do this from the side of your pet’s mouth because this is less threatening for them than being approached head-on. When your pet is used to the brush being in its mouth, it’s time to attempt the actual brushing procedure. Wet the bristles, apply toothpaste and apply the brush at a 45⁰ angle to the tooth. Begin with the upper canines (the long, pointed teeth), then the premolars and molars (the back teeth), then the incisors (the small teeth at the front of the mouth). Repeat this pattern with the lower teeth. Use the brush in gentle circles, starting at the gum line and working away from the gums
- Go slowly, and don’t force your pet to stay still. If at any point your pet resists or gets distressed, stop the procedure and try again another time. Brushing for short periods is best, especially when first introducing brushing. The aim of brushing is that it’s a positive experience for you and your pet, and this depends very much on your approach
- Brushing also allows you to visualise your pet’s teeth. Be on the lookout for red, inflamed gums, broken teeth, lumps or ulceration in the mouth or on the tongue, and report any concerns to your veterinarian or vet nurse
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