Be sure to read Part 1: Why and How Should I Provide At-Home Dental Care?
In the hierarchy of daily home dental care, brushing or wiping is best (the “gold standard”) to remove plaque. Chewing dental treats and safe objects are considered second best, and a distant third place are passive products such as water additives.
Often, pet owners who start a home dental care regimen believe that in so doing, they can skip their pet’s annual veterinary dental care. Not so! Like people, pets who receive daily dental care still need annual veterinary dental care including an oral exam, dental cleaning, and full mouth dental x-rays to check for problems below the gumline. But preventing periodontal disease and finding oral issues earlier will lower the amount of veterinary therapy needed and therefore lower the cost.
How to Start Your Pet’s Daily Dental Care
Keep it Positive
Learning to brush teeth requires several positive, reward-based sessions of a few seconds to a minute per day. Rewards can be a small edible treat, a toy, or a favorite activity like a walk, a meal, or snuggling on the couch. Set small, measurable goals and be flexible with yourself and your pet. Try your best and remember that life happens!
A New Habit
Brushing your pet’s teeth will be easier to remember if you link it to something you already do every day. Some owners brush their pet’s teeth after brushing their own teeth. Commit to it daily over a four to six-week period until it is part of your routine. Involving other family members helps ensure that the burden isn’t entirely shouldered by you, and that brushing or wiping takes place even if you are away.
The following are the steps for brushing your pet’s teeth. Remember, each step should be performed daily for one to two weeks before moving on to the next step. If your pet resists going to the next step, go back to the previous step for another week. If you still experience resistance, talk to your veterinarian. Your pet may have pain.
- Get comfortable in a quiet place. Have your pet sit or stand on your lap. Start by just petting your pet’s face and lips. Practice lifting your pet’s lips.
- Allow your pet to lick a pea-sized sample of pet toothpaste from your finger or a small soft toothbrush.
- Introduce a toothbrush. Some pets tolerate wipes, finger brushes, gauze wipes, Q-tips, or even a clean washcloth better than toothbrushes.
- Combine the brushing/wiping with the pet toothpaste. The outsides of the teeth will be the easiest to access. After several weeks, you can train your pet to hold a cylinder-shaped toy while brushing so you can access the insides of the teeth more easily.
It may take several weeks to months for your pet to get used to having his or her teeth brushed. During that time of learning, daily use of an oral rinse or application of other plaque-repelling products can help.
Dental Care Products
A list of Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) approved products can be found at vohc.org. The VOHC exists to recognize products that meet pre-set standards of plaque and tartar prevention. Products carrying the VOHC® Seal of Acceptance include dental diets, dental chews and rawhides, brushes, water additives, oral gels, sprays and sealants. Discuss specific products with your veterinarian, and use only products that are safe for pets. Many human dental products contain ingredients which are toxic to pets (such as xylitol) or are meant to be spit out and not ingested.
Read Part III to learn advanced tips for tooth brushing/wiping.