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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Is Brushing Teeth REALLY Necessary?

I recently was asked an interesting question.
Do dogs really need their teeth brushed or is it just a money grab by companies?
It may seem like this is a valid concern, at least on the surface.  If you go back 20 years or more nobody was really talking about tooth brushing.  The further back you go the less you will see even dental cleanings by vets.  Older dogs and cats just lost teeth and that was due to aging.  A real interest in veterinary dentistry didn't come about until the late 1980s.  It was in 1988 that the American Veterinary Dental College became a board-certified specialty recognized by the AVMA in the same way that surgical, opthalmology, and dermatology specialists are recognized.  Over the last 25-30 years we as a profession have put more and more emphasis on preventative dental care rather than just dealing with teeth that are litterally rotting out of the mouth.  A joke in the profession is that about 25 years ago we discovered that dogs have teeth, and about 15 years ago we discovered the same thing in cats.  This change in thinking is one of the reasons you will see so many vets talking about dental care and why there are so many products on the market.
The consequences of dental tartar and periodontal disease are very, very real.  Dental infections can lead to seeding of bacteria into the blood stream, causing infections in the kidneys, liver, and heart.  Periodontal disease can be very painful, and the odor coming from an infected mouth harms the bond people have with their pets.  There is even an increased risk of diabetes assocaited with periodontal disease.  Dogs and cats live shorter, less comfortable lives when they are allowed to develop advanced dental problems.  Obviously none of us want this to happen, so the question then becomes "how do we prevent it?"
The "gold standard" of dental care is teeth brushing.  More specifically it's brushing the teeth at least five days per week. Whenever a new product is examined to determine efficacy it is compared to brushing this often.  When you think about it, this makes sense.  Why do we brush our own teeth?  To remove food particles, bacteria, and the debris that builds up on teeth.  Those factors lead to hard calculus and gum infection.  Removing these things helps keep dental disease from developing.  Since it works so well in humans, it shouldn't be hard for us to realize the benefits in dogs and cats.  Yes, there are products on the market that take the place of tooth brushing, such as chew treats, foods, dental sprays, and so on.  But none are more effective than brushing, even if they may be as effective.
I've personally seen the difference brushing makes.  I only have a few clients who brush their dogs' teeth daily, but I can absolutely see a difference.  Their pets' teeth are the only ones where I don't have to talk about putting them under anesthesia for a professional dental cleaning.  Besides clean teeth that habit will pay dividends in improved health and reduced veterinary bills.
No scam or money grab here.  Teeth brushing really does make a big difference and really is important.