Yes, you can clean your pets’ teeth at home. I know dental hygienists who clean their personal pet’s teeth at home and it really makes a difference! The unfortunate thing about our pet’s teeth is that they are much more prone to periodontal disease (inflammation and infection around the roots of the teeth), and cleaning in the gingival sulcus (the natural pocket where the gums meet the teeth) is critical to success.
The first step in the process is conditioning your pet to lie in your lap and allow you to touch the inside of his mouth. This is a gradual process of rewarding your pet for letting you touch his mouth, lift his lips, touch the teeth, massage the gums … and it takes time and patience.
For example, the first week you may just have your dog or cat sit in your lap and lift a lip and offer a treat. Once your pet starts to like this game, you up the ante a little and probe in their mouth a little more, always giving plenty of praise and positive reinforcement. It is important to be cautious when working with your pet’s mouth as you can be bitten even if by accident. If you have any concern about being bitten, you should not attempt this process. Some pets will like this game more than others, and it is important to take your time each day to teach your pet to trust you to touch his teeth. Eventually, you will be able to open your dog’s mouth and brush his teeth on the inside and outside surfaces and in between the teeth.
If you can make it to this stage and your dog or cat is excellent at being still, then you can buy a set of dental instruments and try scaling tartar and cleaning below the gum line. It’s not as easy as it looks and if you try it one time, you will have a great appreciation for dental hygienists. As in most things, if you are highly skilled, you can make it look easy. Before using dental instruments to clean your pets’ teeth, it is advisable to get some formal training first as you can damage the teeth and gums if you are not using them appropriately.
The easiest and best way to thoroughly clean and polish your pet’s teeth is with him under anesthesia. Remember that periodontal disease is our number one concern in pets and the only way to effectively evaluate periodontal disease is with dental x-rays, which must be done with the patient under anesthesia. Your pet needs to see your veterinarian once yearly for a comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment.
Ask your vet about these best practices in veterinary dental care when your pet goes in for a cleaning.
- X-rays of each tooth in the mouth
- Comprehensive anesthetic monitoring for safety
- Periodontal probing and charting of teeth in the medical record
- Proper treatment of deep gingival pockets
- Nerve blocks and pain meds when extractions are needed
- Sterilization of dental cleaning tools and drills
- Fluoride treatment
- Home care instructions
Your pet’s dental health is one place where you can make a positive impact at home. Over 70% of pets have periodontal disease by the time they are 3 years old, making it one of the biggest problems veterinarians battle. We can say for certain that your pet will suffer from periodontal disease at some point in his life, so why not start early with prevention?
There are multitudes of options for home dental care. Brushing is best, and if you can get in the habit of brushing your pet’s teeth each night, you will make a huge difference in your pet’s health. If your pet goes to bed each night with clean teeth, he is spending 12 hour per day with clean teeth. Half days added together can become half a lifetime of clean teeth.
If brushing is not an option for you, we have rawhide chews with the same enzyme treatment that is in the doggie toothpaste. There are many other treats and chews available. For a list of chews proven to work, check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) website.
I like to use OraVet, a once weekly barrier for your pet’s teeth along with a dental care food that cleans teeth as pets eat.
Give us a call or come our animal hospital in Danville, Virginia for a free dental exam by one of our doctors and get a recommendation for your pet. Each pet and each situation is different, but we have many ideas and tricks that can make oral health care easier for you.
Dr. Jeff Smith