How can I help prevent tartar accumulation?
Dogs and cats get plaque on their teeth just like we do! Plaque is made of proteins (from saliva) and bacteria. If the plaque is not removed every day, the bacteria will multiply rapidly and invade the gums around the teeth. Gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums, results. If the plaque is still not removed, minerals from the saliva combine with it to form tartar or calculus. Ultimately the inflammation of the gums will spread to the bone around the teeth and cause bone loss or periodontal disease. However, gingivitis is a reversible problem and periodontal disease is preventable. Once tartar has built up, your pet will need a professional dental cleaning and evaluation by your veterinarian.
After a pet’s professional dental cleaning, plaque begins forming in as little as six hours and tartar can start to form in as little as 2 weeks. A home dental care program will help to slow the rate of development of plaque and tartar, prolong the time until your pet needs another dental cleaning, and keep the teeth healthier so that there will be fewer “bad” teeth, less pain/infection, and a less costly dental procedure than for a pet without home dental care.
The “Gold Standard” of home care is tooth brushing. This is the most effective means of controlling plaque and periodontal disease in your pet. There are toothpaste and brushes available from your veterinarians that are specially designed for your pet’s mouth. Your veterinarian can provide you with detailed instructions on how to brush or rinse your pet’s teeth. With gentleness, patience and perseverance it is possible to regularly clean many pets’ teeth in this way. The best time to get your pet used to tooth brushing is when he/she is young. You can start by gently touching and massaging the gums with your finger, when he/she is in a calm, quiet mood. After your pet accepts this, you can switch over to using the toothbrush with no paste, and eventually introduce the toothpaste.
In addition to brushing, or as an alternative (if the pet will not accept brushing), a range of chews such as Greenies, CET chews, or Tartar Shield treats can help your pet’s dental health. Chews help by providing some cleaning via abrasion on the surface of the teeth, promote saliva production which helps to reduce bacteria, and often contain enzymes or antiseptics that also help to control bacteria and plaque.
Rinses and gels:
Antibacterial mouthwashes (Biotene, CET Rinse) and gels (Maxiguard or Biotene) can be applied to the teeth and mouth to reduce the number of bacteria present, and increase oral health. These concentrated products help to fight bacteria, but do not have the advantage of abrasive cleaning of the teeth. Maxiguard is also often used after periodontal therapy or oral surgery to aid in the healing of the oral tissues. A word of caution on Biotene…DO NOT USE the human version of Biotene available over the counter in stores, because it contains ingredients that are not safe for pets.
There are several water additives that are available to help increase dental health. These are products designed for ease of use. The purpose is to reduce plaque formation in the mouth. Many of these products are as yet unproven. The only product that has been proven to be effective and has the VOHC seal of approval is the “Healthy Mouth” product for cats & dogs. This product is available in our office.
There are also a number of different foods that actually help reduce the accumulation of tartar and plaque. The most effective of these diets is a prescription diet from Hill’s called Prescription Diet t/d. Other dental diets include Hill’s Science Diet Oral Care and the Eukanuba Diets that contain their “dental defense” system. Please ask your veterinarian for further details regarding available dental products for your pet.
EFAC (Esterified fatty acid complex) Periodontal is a product that is an omega 3 fatty acid product like no other. It is the only fatty acid product that is absorbed directly through the gum tissue. It is used both for periodontal disease and for arthritis and joint disease. This product was tested and proven beneficial in humans, and the research was published in the human Journal of Periodontology. It has now become available for cats and dogs. This product is particularly beneficial for pets with periodontal disease (which is present in >80% of pets over age 3), rather than routine home dental care.
How do I know that a dental home care product is effective?
The best approach is to use products specifically recommended by your veterinarian. In addition, there is an independent group of veterinary dental specialists that evaluate the efficacy claims made by manufacturers of dental products. This group is called the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) You can look for special marking on the packaging of any dental product that it has the seal of approval by the VOHC (see below). There are many dental products out there that have not been submitted to the VOHC for approval, and these products may or may not be as effective as they claim to be. However, if a product has the VOHC seal, you can be confident that it works as the manufacturer claims.
You can also review a list of VOHC reviewed products at their website: www.vohc.org
Can I use human toothpaste or oral rinses?
Human toothpaste or rinses should not be used in pets. These products and are generally not meant to be swallowed. Additionally, many types of human toothpaste and other dental products contain sodium, fluoride, or other chemical ingredients which may cause problems in some pets. In fact, there are some over the counter human products, such as Biotene, that have the same brand name as certain pet products, yet are still not necessarily safe to use on pets. If you have a question about a specific product, please feel free to ask your veterinarian about it.
What toys should I avoid to protect my pet’s teeth from damage?
Chewing on objects harder than teeth may lead to broken teeth. Be especially careful with cow and horse hooves. They commonly cause fractures of the large upper chewing teeth. Other hard object that can break teeth include hard plastic chew bones, real bones and rocks. Tug-o-war games can be risky, especially in young animals whose teeth have not developed their full adult strength. Broken teeth are painful and become quickly infected, resulting in the need for either root canal therapy or extraction of the affected tooth.
When should I start home dental care with my pet?
As soon as puppy or kitten teeth emerge, it’s time to start brushing. Although baby teeth are eventually lost and replaced with adult teeth, the puppy or kitten gets used to the brushing procedure, which continues for life. It is more difficult and time consuming to get adult animals to accept brushing, although it is still possible and significantly beneficial.
My personal preferences for pet home dental care are the following:
Routine home dental care:
– Brushing with CET toothpaste 2-3 times weekly (daily is even better!).
– CET chews as a healthy treat
– Hill’s Prescription diet t/d for adult to mature animals that are not on another medically necessary diet.
– Greenies treats
– Healthy Mouth water additive
Animals with periodontal disease should also consider using:
– EFAC Periodontal
– Maxiguard gel
– Biotene rinse or gel (see caution above)
– CET rinse