Vet’s Corner — Dental Disease

It is estimated that 80% of dogs over the age of three have some form of dental disease. The normal mouth has white teeth and pink (or pigmented) gums which do not bleed when touched.

Dental disease is initially invisible when plaque (bacteria and other substances) builds up on the tooth surface. The more plaque that is allowed to accumulate the redder the gums become (gingivitis) and eventually the plaque mineralizes into calculus (tarter) on the tooth surface. If left untreated these early and reversible changes of dental disease can lead to a more serious and irreversible condition called periodontal disease where the teeth loosen and eventually fall out.

Periodontal disease however does not just affect the mouth. Bacteria can spread from the mouth through the blood stream and affect other organs such as the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs making your pet generally feel unwell.

It is recommended that all dogs visit their local veterinary surgery at least once a year for a dental check. Most practices now offer reduced rate or free nurse clinics specifically to check your pet’s dental health. These clinics are designed to show you how to maintain your pet’s oral hygiene with a range of different products including tooth brushing.

Tooth brushing — Where do I start?

Set an appropriate time of day for tooth brushing: after the pet has had its last meal of the day is preferable but if you have more time in the morning do it then.

Make it part of your routine:

For example Have your own dinner, feed the pets, do the washing up, watch TV, read a book, get your things ready for tomorrow, brush the pets teeth, go up to the bathroom to do your own teeth, go to bed.

How do I do it?

It’s easiest to sit down on the floor with your pet either next to them or behind them, but facing the same way. You may be more confident asking someone to sit with you and stop the pet moving backwards or pawing you when you first start. Don’t restrain your pet too forcefully – we want to work towards them allowing us to brush their teeth not forcing them to have it done. If at any stage your pet resists strongly stop; go back to the previous step and only progress when your pet is accepting comfortably what you are doing.

Week 1

Take a pea sized amount of toothpaste on your index finger, let the pet smell it and lick it, then dab it onto the incisors/canines (teeth at the front of the mouth)

Week 2

Take a pea sized amount of toothpaste on your index finger, use your other hand to lift the upper lips, rub the toothpaste on the incisors/canines in a circular motion for a few seconds. Build the time up gradually over the week to about 40 seconds.

Week 3

Take a pea sized amount of toothpaste on your index finger, use your other hand to lift the upper lips, rub the toothpaste on the incisors/canines as if your finger were a toothbrush. Start to move onto the pre-molars building up gradually over the week until you can ‘brush’ all of them.

Week 4

Continue to use your finger as if it were a toothbrush and gradually build up to cover all the teeth in the mouth that you can reach.

Week 5

Choose a toothbrush you are comfortable with. Put a pea sized amount of toothpaste on it and let your pet sniff it. Introduce it to just the incisors with just one or two circular movements. Gradually build this up over the week until you are brushing all the incisors & canines.

Week 6

Brush the incisors & canines and then gradually move up to the premolars as you did before with your finger.

Week 7

Brush the incisors, canines & pre-molars and move on to cover all of the molars. By the end of this week you can be an efficient pet tooth brusher!

Why do I need to brush my pets teeth every day?

Plaque starts to build up on the tooth surface again within an hour of brushing. Tartar or calculus begins to form within 24-48 hours. This cannot be removed by a toothbrush. You need to brush every day to beat the build up of calculus.

I really can’t brush my pets teeth, what should I do?

Book an appointment with the nurse for a demonstration. Don’t rush things, be patient and only give in if you are really not making any progress at all. The nurse can advise you on other options to aid dental health and slow the disease process down. However you must be aware that tooth brushing is the single most effective treatment for prevention of dental disease.

Leigh Sobye BVSc MRCVS