Every February, as part of Pet Dental Health Month, there is a public educational campaign to increase awareness of the importance of promoting our pets’ periodontal health. This annual wellness event is a topic we need to focus on on a daily basis.
In my veterinary clinical practice, I am very passionate about my patients having healthy and clean mouths. Periodontal disease and obesity are the two most common diseases I diagnose. While both conditions are entirely preventable, the negative consequences associated with each are often irreversible.
My own dog, Cardiff, has Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA), a typically fatal condition potentially caused by excessive immunostimulation from inflammation and infection. My goal is for Cardiff to never experience another hemolytic episode, so I’ve established a daily routine to minimize bacterial accumulation in his mouth. I alternate between using a toothbrush (often a Sonicare) and cleaning with a circular fabric swab impregnated with an antiseptic called Sodium Hexametaphosphate (SHMP).
How did I establish this method of daily oral cleansing for Cardiff? I sought guidance from an expert in the field of veterinary dentistry (and included my perspective based on practicality and independently researched effectivity) from Anson Tsugawa VMD, DACVD, of the Dog and Cat Dentist, who provided his Top Three Tips for Pet Dental Care.
- Dental Cleaning
"When having your pet's teeth professionally cleaned, expect more than merely a simple process akin to a tooth version of a car wash and detail. While under anesthesia for the cleaning, request dental radiographs (X-rays). Without the addition of this important oral diagnostic test, the veterinary professional will be unable to assess the bone level around the teeth; an important criteria in determining a tooth's periodontal disease status and what treatment beyond cleaning is necessary. (e.g., periodontal surgery or extractions)
"Furthermore, in cats, dental radiographs are important in screening for a painful disease known as tooth resorption; a condition for which all adult cats should be evaluated."
- Tooth Brushing
"Tooth brushing, ideally, should be performed daily. We recommend using a traditional flat profile toothbrush, and if a paste (dentifrice) is used, choose a veterinary product. Human tooth paste contains fluoride and foaming agents that may be toxic or upsetting to your pet's gastrointestinal tract if ingested.
"It is not necessary to use a paste, although the flavoring (e.g., poultry, beef, etc.) may be helpful in encouraging good behavior when brushing. That said, many people find that their dog/cat chews on the brush in an attempt to eat the paste, and that it is more distracting than helpful.
"Therefore, using a water-moistened brush and simply offering a small amount of paste as a treat after brushing may ultimately be a better approach. Regarding brushing technique, we recommend directing the bristles of the brush at a 45-degree angle. The tips of the bristles should be angled toward the gum-line and a horizontal motion should be used. Strive for efficiency by brushing sets of teeth (for example, all six incisors as one set, canines and premolars as another set, etc).
"Lastly, avoid simply rushing up to your pet and ripping open the mouth to brush. Instead, gently lift your pet's lip and introduce the brush head into the mouth."
- Dental Treats
"Treats such as hard plastic bones, sterilized real bones, ice cubes, cow hooves, antlers, and bully sticks are too hard for your pet and may cause tooth fractures. Dental treats that have received the Registered Seal by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) are recommended.
"The VOHC is an organization that exists to recognize products that meet preset standards of plaque and tartar/calculus retardation in dogs and cats. Products are awarded the VOHC Seal of Acceptance following review of data from trials conducted according to VOHC protocols. Submission of results of clinical trials to the VOHC on behalf of a product is voluntary. VOHC is an excellent resource for dental diets, treats, water additives, gels, toothpastes and tooth coatings that help retard plaque and tartar on the teeth of animals."
To provide full disclosure, the Sodium Hexametaphosphate infused wipes are not yet on the VOHC approval list, but there are also many other products commonly recommended by veterinarians and dental specialists that are not on the VOHC list. If you are concerned about a product you are interested in using, talk with your veterinarian as to the item’s efficacy and practical potential in your pet’s oral health plan.
Look at every day as an opportunity to promote your pet’s better periodontal health. Start now and commit to making your pet’s mouth and internal organs a priority during juvenile, adult, and senior life stages. Your pet’s longevity and quality of life depends on it.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Image: Cardiff shows his clean teeth and healthy mouth with a big, Welsh Terrier smile. Then again, who wouldn't smile on the beach in Malibu, CA?