Twice a year the average American makes a visit to the dentist to get a regular cleaning for their teeth. We’re told that, ideally, we should brush our teeth twice a day and floss once daily. Seems like a lot of work to go through just for pearly whites, but there are a lot of reasons to keep your mouth clean and healthy that go beyond good breath. The same is true of your pet’s teeth. Whether you have a dog or a cat, good overall health starts with proper oral hygiene and dental visits to the vet.
Five Ways to Protect Your Pet’s Teeth
1. Brush Their Teeth Regularly
Good oral hygiene starts at home with you as the pet owner. The best way to keep oral hygiene issues from becoming a problem in the first place is to keep your pet’s mouth clean. This means brushing their teeth regularly. Now, some sources will tell you that it is ideal to brush your pet’s teeth every day. However, for a number of reasons this simply isn’t going to be possible. You will forget. You will get too busy. Life tends to get in the way.
The key to healthy teeth in your pet is the effort. You can certainly shoot to brush your pet’s teeth every day, but at the very least ensure that you are brushing them regularly throughout the week to stay ahead of any hygiene issues. The American Animal Hospital Association offers some helpful tips on brushing your pet’s teeth safely and properly, such as:
- Introduce your pet to toothpaste slowly, offering a little bit of paste with a treat immediately following. Slowly increase this to get them accustomed to the toothpaste.
- Use a toothbrush and toothpaste specially designed and formulated for pets. Do not use human toothbrushes or toothpaste.
- Follow your pet’s lead. If they’re nervous, don’t force the issue. Go slow and give them time to adjust to the concept.
- Brush gradually and gently starting at the gum line and working down away from it to the tip of each tooth.
- Don’t over scrub. You can end up doing more harm than good when you do by causing discomfort and even lingering pain.
2. Offer Appropriate Chew Toys
If your pet isn’t very receptive to tooth brushing, and not all pets will be, make sure you’re still caring for their teeth by offering them safe and appropriate chew toys. There are chew treats available which are designed specifically for cleaner teeth in dogs and cats. If you’re struggling to find them, look for the seal of the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). VetStreet.com recommends avoiding treats such as cow hooves, pig’s ears, and real bones. While these encourage chewing, which can serve to scrape away bacteria from teeth, they can actually damage the teeth and leave your dog in need of tooth restoration.
While tennis balls are a favorite of dogs, they’ve actually been shown to cause mechanical wearing on tooth surfaces. Additionally, the felt surface of the ball can bother a dog’s digestion when nibbled off and ingested. The best toys to offer are those which are non-abrasive.
3. Use a Special Diet
Just as a particular diet is beneficial to the human digestive system and our oral health, so too can the right diet make a positive impact on your pet’s teeth. Generally speaking, dry food is better for your pet’s teeth than soft food because the harder textures of the kibble help scrape off and remove tartar, while also preventing food and bacteria from gathering around the gum line. If you’re particularly concerned about your pet’s dental health, there are specialty dental diets that consist of carefully shaped pieces of dry food designed to more thoroughly clean your pet’s teeth.
Another factor to consider is the makeup of the food. Those foods and treats with higher levels of sugar and starch should be avoided. Both sugar and starch encourage bacteria growth and can release acid that leads to tooth decay.
4. Visit the Vet
Regular visits to the vet’s office are an important part of maintaining healthy teeth in your dog or cat. You can put in the work for yourself, but unless you know the signs and symptoms of dental issues, you are likely to miss a growing problem in your dog’s mouth. By ensuring your pet has regular visits with the vet, you can help catch small dental problems before they mature into larger oral hygiene issues. The average pet over the age of 3 benefits from a single annual cleaning, but your vet may recommend more visits for cleaning if your pet has already developed significant oral health issues.
5. Be Consistent
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to protect your pet’s health is to be consistent in how you care for their teeth. Once you have a routine down for approaching teeth brushing, stick to that routine so that your pet becomes comfortable with the concept and doesn’t slide back in its habits. If you find a food that you like that supports a healthy diet and cares for their teeth, then stick with that food and try not to deviate from it. The same can be said of treats and toys. Most importantly, listen to the input from your vet at annual or six-month checkups so you can find out what kind of issues your pet might be having with their teeth. Identifying these issues is your best shot at minimizing their impact on your pet’s teeth.