PREVENTION is the best defense against periodontal (gum) disease. Regular visits by your pet to his veterinarian for a thorough teeth cleaning above and below the gum line is the first step. Proper care at home, however, is the most important factor in protecting your pet’s oral health.
PEOPLE can choose their own level of oral hygiene — pets must depend upon their owners.
PROPER DIET that includes dry, crunchy foods helps stimulate the gums and eliminate some of the plaque accumulations. Dry food alone, however, will not keep your pet’s teeth clean enough to prevent dental disease.
BRUSHING your pet’s teeth on a regular basis is the most important step in preventing periodontal disease. The goal is to keep plaque and tartar from accumulating on your pet’s teeth.
START SLOWLY by simply handling your pet’s mouth and running your finger along the lip side of the gum and tooth line. If he fusses, play with him, praise him and try again. Make it fun for both of you. Select a place where you can brush each time on a consistent, comfortable basis. Pick a time when both of you are relaxed. Your pet picks up signals from you — if you are relaxed, your pet will also relax. If your pet is a “struggler”, wrap him in a large bath towel with just the head protruding.
ONCE your pet has accepted your handling of his mouth, you can start by wrapping a cloth or gauze around your index finger and wipe off the plaque from the tooth surface. A cotton swab can also be used for small dogs or cats. A little beef or chicken broth used as flavoring can help increase acceptance. Concentrate on the gum line of the tooth. After your pet is used to the cloth or gauze, start adding a little special pet toothpaste available from your veterinarian. Avoid using human toothpaste. Pets swallow it instead of spitting it out and it sometimes makes them sick. Pet toothpastes are also flavored to be more appealing to dogs and cats. Special dental care products will be prescribed as needed for pets with certain dental problems.
AFTER your pet is used to the cloth, gauze or cotton swab treatment (this may take up to several weeks of patient training) you can try brushing with a soft bristle toothbrush. Gently hold the mouth closed with one hand. Lift the lip on one side of the mouth and gently brush the outside surface of the teeth. Lots of short back and forth strokes at the gum line are most effective. Concentrate mainly on the lip or cheek side of the teeth and gums. This is where the salivary glands are located and many of the problems occur. As your pet becomes more comfortable with brushing you can try brushing the inside surfaces of the teeth.
THE ENTIRE PROCESS should take only a few minutes and should be done on a regular basis, preferably daily. Give your pet lots of praise and occasionally a reward for being cooperative. He will learn to let you brush his teeth to get the attention and praise.
THIS CARE WILL greatly improve your pet’s dental health and reduce the need for professional treatment. Caring for your pet’s mouth isn’t pampering or frivolous; it will protect him against some serious health problems. Home care, coupled with periodic examinations and treatment by your veterinarian, will make a significant difference in your pet’s health, longevity, and happiness.