In my last post I talked about why dental care is important to your pets. Today I want to talk about what you can do to help.
As with pretty much anything in life, prevention is best. If you wait until tartar and gingivitis are present the disease process may be harder to control. Start your dogs and cats young, getting them used to having their teeth and gums touched while they are still puppies or kittens. Many clients who start dental care later in their pet's life find that there is resistance to brushing or other preventive care. When young, dogs and cats are still learning what is "normal". Make dental care normal for them and it will be easier throughout their life.
So what can you do to help prevent dental tartar from forming, or reduce build-up between cleanings?
1. Brushing. This is the gold standard and the most effective method. You can use most tooth brushes, even human ones, though ones designed for pets' mouths are shaped slightly differently and may work better. Definitely use a pet toothpaste, as human toothpastes are not designed to be swallowed and are not as palatable to animals. To be truly effective, brushing must be done at least five times per week. Since that's most of the week, why not just go ahead and do it every day? Put the brush and toothpaste somewhere you will see it daily, and make it a part of your routine. Just don't get it mixed up with your own tooth care products! You probably wouldn't like poultry-flavored toothpaste.
2. Foods. Several foods have been specifically designed to help with dental care, and many are quite effective. Hills Science Diet, Purina, and Royal Canin all make dental-specific diets. Though formulated to be the primary foods, Hills t/d is generally still effective when part of the diet (at least half). Though foods are not quite as effective as brushing, they can still make a big difference. The idea behind these foods is that they chemically bind with some of the minerals that make up calculus on the teeth, keeping them off the teeth, as well as mechanically scrape the teeth as the pet chews.
3. Treats. There are many treats on the market that say they help with tartar build-up, not all work well. Greenies brand products are probably the leaders in this area, though I've seen good results with Pedigree Dentabones and several others. The key with the treats is to treat them like brushing. They must be given at least five times per week to be effective.
4. Sprays. Recently I've seen several oral sprays come onto the market, and have greeted them with some skepticism. However, some actually do work, such as the products made by HealthyMouth. Some water additives can also be effective.
5. Dental cleanings. Eventually most pets will need to have their teeth professionally cleaned, even if the above steps are taken. These cleanings need to be done under anesthesia by a veterinary professional. The "cleaning" done by some groomers is actually just brushing the teeth. It's not bad, but if you only do it every few months it really isn't helping any. You should also not have teeth cleaned by someone not properly trained, as it can do more harm than good. And if the pet is not anesthetized, most will move at some point during the procedure, potentially causing harm because of the sharp instruments, and likely resulting in a poor quality job.
I want to direct my readers to the web site of the Veterinary Oral Health Council. This is a group of veterinary dentists (yes, they exist) who evaluate different products on the market and determine if they actually work. On their site you can easily find a list of products that have been given their seal of approval, and I would recommend using these as a starting point, though I do think there are products not on the list that also work well. Above all, talk to your own veterinarian about what is best for your pet.
Okay, that's the info. Now on to the contest!!!!
PetSmart.com is giving away a set of dental care products exclusively to readers of this blog!!! The prize is a set of Arm & Hammer dental products for dogs: Advanced Care Dental Finger Wipes, 3-Sided Toothbrush, and Gum Care Dental Foam. One (and only one) lucky winner will receive the full set free, shipped to their address at no charge, and with no strings attached.
So how do you win? Really simple. Make a comment on this blog entry. It can be something as simple as "pick me", or a real discussion, though keep things polite. The deadline to post is 11:00pm EDT (GMT -5:00) on Sunday, February 26th, 2012. Of the posts, one name will be chosen randomly and that person will win! I will announce the winner on my blog and they will be contacted shortly afterwards to arrange shipping.
Good luck to all entrants! And keep your pets' mouths healthy!