Plaque is a slime comprised of bacteria, saliva and food particles which adhere to the teeth. Without preemptive care, this plaque mineralizes and forms tartar, which is the brown rock-like deposits seen on teeth.  If plaque is left untreated, your pet can experience pain and tooth loss or worse.  Infected teeth and gums are a common cause of heart disease in dogs. Although routine dental exams and cleanings performed by your veterinarian are essential, prevention and management of periodontal disease begins at home.  Training your pet to accept habitual cleanings and ensuring they are receiving the proper dental treats and/or food will considerably reduce the risks of periodontal disease. Below is some information regarding home care and dental products to help control plaque and tartar.

  1. Visit your veterinarian and have a thorough oral examination performed to assess for any current dental disease. Dental X-rays should be performed to assess for disease beneath the gum line. If your pet has periodontal disease, teeth may need to be extracted.  These issues need to be addressed before starting brushing at home.
  2. Brush your pet’s teeth daily. Brushing with toothpaste designed for your pet will help control plaque and keep your pet healthy. It is never too late to start. Be sure to get toothpaste designed for your pet. Human toothpaste will cause stomach upset.  Baking soda is high in sodium and can be dangerous to your pet.  Hydrogen peroxide can be too harsh. Choose an appropriate toothbrush for your pet.  There are many toothbrushes designed for pets but some human toothbrushes work well also.  Hold the brush at a 45 degree angle to the tooth and brush back and forth or from gum to tip.  You may have to train your pet to let you brush his/her teeth. It is helpful for you and your pet to make the brushing part of your daily routine, so doing the brushing in the same place at the same time and rewarding your pet with a dental friendly treat afterwards can be helpful.
  3. Dental diets: While not in any way a substitute for brushing, several dental diets have been shown (through research studies) to decrease the rate of calculus and plaque formation. Diets such as Hill’s t/d, Science Diet Oral Care, Purina DH, Royal Canin Dental all work to prevent varying degrees of tartar and plaque formation. These diets are all designed to be fed as 100% of the diet.
  4. VOHC products: There are many, many products available that are marketed as “dental” products that have no research to support their claims about improving oral health. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) was created to recognize products that meet pre-set standards for plaque and calculus prevention in dogs and cats. Products with the VOHC stamp of approval have clinical evidence to show that they decrease plaque and calculus accumulation, which improves the oral health of any patients using these products. Look for the VOHC stamp of approval on the packaging before purchasing dental products. To find a complete list of products that have the VOHC stamp of approval, please check out vohc.org. Avoid natural bones, antlers, dried cow hooves and hard nylon toys and large rawhide toys as these are hard enough to fracture teeth.

We do so many things to keep our pets happy.  We cannot forget to keep their teeth happy as well.  Happy brushing!

Linda Lewiston, DVM
Education Coordinator