The more we, as veterinarians, learn about animal health care, the greater our mission to educate pet parents, and the greater all our responsibility to convert education to action and incorporate these advances into our daily schedules.
One of the most rapidly expanding fields in veterinary care is Animal Dentistry. Not only have we learned to correct bite problems that would otherwise produce painful pressure points or make eating difficult, and treat abscessed teeth without extraction, we have learned that unchecked gum disease often results in serious heart and kidney problems which can be avoided with home dental care, including regular brushing. And our pets can’t do it themselves, folks, so it’s up to us.
Brushing their teeth is not so bad, It’s easier to start when your puppy or kitten is young, but it’s never too late to start, no matter your pet’s age. Introduce the toothbrush gently in a calm, comfortable setting. Always offer a treat afterward. It may take several sessions to get the hang of it and establish a routine. Be creative, be calm, be persistent! There are a variety of tooth brushes/finger brushes designed to simplify the task, as well as dental wipes and other plaque reducing products available. Plan to brush your dog or cat’s teeth every day; (hopefully you’ll get to it at least three times a week, I can live with that). You can supplement the brushings with some of the chew toys and bones geared toward dental health, but you shouldn’t rely on them as your sole defense against this potentially deadly disease.
I also recommend yearly professional cleanings to address plaque build-up. Depending on your pet’s personality and extent of its dental condition, anesthesia is often required for the process, although many veterinarians can do a thorough job with only light sedation, or even acupuncture. As always, consult your veterinarian for the best recommendation for your pet. We do not recommend having groomers do anything more than brushing your pet’s teeth. In fact, in many states, it is against the Veterinary Practices Act for anyone but a licensed veterinarian to provide dental services to a pet.
We all have demands on our time, and it’s hard to add to our busy days, but we make time every day for what we understand to be important. Our pets devote themselves to our wellbeing and rely on us for their care. A few minutes of prevention easily outweighs the pain of regret. Grab a toothbrush and let the games begin!