Hi stranger! Signing up for MypetMD is easy, free and puts the most relevant content at your fingertips.

Get Instant Access To

  • 24/7 alerts for pet-related recalls

  • Your own library of articles, blogs, and favorite pet names

  • Tools designed to keep your pets happy and healthy

or Connect with Facebook

By joining petMD, you agree to the Privacy Policy.

petMD Blogs

Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Top Three Tips for Pet Dental Care from a Veterinary Dental Specialist

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.

  1. 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."

  2. 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."

  3. 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?

Comments  18

Leave Comment
  • Dental Care
    02/28/2012 10:27am

    Where can I purchase the circular fabric swabs impregnated with an antiseptic called Sodium Hexametaphosphate (SHMP).

  • 02/29/2012 08:08pm

    The DentAcetic wipes containing SHMP can be purchased through your veterinarian (best, so that a medical health professional is aware that you are using them) or on-line.
    When I use the wipes, I squeeze the wipe out first so that the amount of dripping liquid is minimized.
    They have made a noticeable difference in Cardiff's oral health, as you can see by his photo (smiling on the beach).
    Dr PM
    Twitter @PatrickMahaney

  • Video
    02/28/2012 12:17pm

    I'd love to see a video of Cardiff getting a tooth brushing with a SoniCare.

    Also, it's important to note that human toothpaste shouldn't be used on critters.

    Cardiff has such a dazzling smile!

  • 02/29/2012 08:12pm

    I'll have to get working on a video showcasing Cardiff enduring teeth brushing (Sonicare and wipes). It's on my "to do" list.
    I definitely agree regarding the dog appropriate toothpaste. No people paste for dogs and cats!
    Dr PM

  • 03/01/2012 01:09am

    I anxiously await a video of Cardiff's oral hygiene routine.

  • Dental Tips
    02/29/2012 12:46am

    Thank you ... great tips!

    Would you recommend any other special tips for caring for slab fractures? My dog has two. My vet and I are watching them. They don't go under the gum line, so we are leaving the teeth in place, for now.

  • 03/01/2012 09:31pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    Slab fractures can be challenging to manage, as every time your dog chews on something the fractures can potentially become mobilized.
    Avoid anything hard to chew on (bones, Nyla bone, rolled rawhide, etc). Always choose something that is flexible and can be bent with your reasonable hand strength.
    Daily brushing can be beneficial as the action will let you closely observe the slab fractures for any changes.
    I'd also consider a consultation with a veterinary dental specialist for the best perspective on how the problem can be managed.
    Good luck,
    Dr PM
    Twitter @PatrickMahaney

  • SHMP - Toxic effect?
    02/29/2012 02:13am

    Dr. Mahaney,

    Could you also say a bit about your opinion of the benefits vs. risks of using SHMP.

    I seem to find a good bit of info. that says it can be toxic.

    Thank you.

  • 03/01/2012 10:19pm

    I recently attended multiple veterinary dentistry lectures at the Western Veterinary Conference and the SHMP wipes were strongly favorable as per the veterinary dental specialists.
    Perhaps the quantity that is in the wipes (1% solution of Acetic Acid and SHMP) is such a low quantity that is not concerning?
    Perhaps the fact that you wipe the dogs teeth, then discard the wipe (as compared to having them swallow the wipe or paste) contributes to its safety (akin to rinsing with mouthwash and spitting it out).?
    Can you provide any web links to that describe the toxic effects of SHMP on dogs and cats so that I can review the information?
    Thank you,
    Dr PM

  • 03/02/2012 12:50am

    Thank you, Dr. Mahaney.

    Below is a website that seems to indicate there is potential for a variety of problems.

    I can understand, though, how it may only cause problems at higher concentrations. I also understand that it's necessary to weigh what may be only a very small risk against the obvious benefits of a clean mouth.

    I would be interested in your professional assessment of this info:


  • 03/04/2012 07:23am

    Thank you for including the link. I reviewed the information and consider it all in the greater good for our pets (including my dog, Cardiff).
    As the DentAcetic wipes are a combination of Acetic Acid and SHMP in a 1% solution and I only use the fabric to wipe off the tooth (after first squeezing it out), I am currently not concerned about the toxic effect.
    There are other similar excerpts about SHMP, such as:
    If a pet owner wanted to be 100% certain to not create any toxicity while providing home dental care, then using a moistened tooth brush with no paste (many pastes contain Xylitol) is the way to go.
    Dr PM

  • 03/04/2012 07:47am

    Thank you for the extra time and care you've taken in looking further into this, Dr. Mahaney.

    All of the blogs here on PetMD are just great, with caring and attentive doctors who write them and tend to the comments and questions!

    I really appreciate it!

  • 03/05/2012 06:48am

    You are welcome.
    I strive to provide information that is relevant to pet owners around the world (with the perspective of what I do for my own dog being a big part of the equation).
    I appreciate your readership and comments.
    I hope to see you back soon!
    Dr PM

  • dog teeth brushing
    03/09/2012 02:50pm

    Dr. Mahaney- thank you for all of your great articles. I brush my 13 year old jack russell and my 5 year old aussie/heelers teeth nightly with CET poultry toothpaste followed up with Nolvadent. I use a spare handle to my Oral B professional toothbrush and I use the head I don't use any more when I get a new one. I figure the head is softer by then. My aussie gets a thumbs up at her checkups. My jr had his teeth cleaned in June at the vet. I also use Oravet weekly on the jr's molars. I can't seem to use either greenies or cet hex chews without stomach upset. Have you ever used the Nolvadent? thanks again Jill

  • 03/13/2012 07:39pm

    Hello Jilbert57,
    Thank you for your comments. I'm so pleased to hear that you regularly brush your pet's teeth and have achieved success in doing so.
    The Nolvadent product is great to reduce oral cavity bacteria (which produce plaque, tartar, and calculus). I suggest applying it to a toothpaste or cotton swab/paper towel (wrapped around your finger), because we want to minimize the amount your pet actually swallows. If you were to squirt in the mouth, even with the best inanition of just getting it on the teeth, there can be a large volume swallowed than if it is just applied to a brush/swab.
    Keep up the good work!
    I hope to see you back soon on my The Daily Vet column.
    Dr PM
    Twitter @PatrickMahaney

  • dog dental
    10/26/2012 07:49am

    Just like humans, pets’ teeth need looking after too! The health of their teeth and gums has a significant impact on their overall quality of life. Imagine how your mouth would feel (and smell!) if you never brushed your teeth. Imagine having a really bad toothache and not being able to tell anyone about it.

    veterinary dental

  • 10/26/2012 08:01pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    I agree with you wholeheartedly!
    I see so many dogs and cats that receive regular dental care provided by their owner and veterinary health professionals have a healthier and better quality of life. Those pets who received no dental care and ultimately develop moderate to severe periodontal disease certainly suffer from a variety of health problems that could have otherwise been avoided through it regular dental care.
    I hope to soon see you back again on my The Daily Vet page.
    Dr. PM

  • Interesting toys
    03/25/2015 04:28pm

    Cow hooves eh? That sounds odd, but it really shouldn't be. They're basically just feet bones.

Meet The Vets