Keep Teeth Clean with Dental Routine
When did you last check your dog or cat’s teeth? Most owners don’t look often enough and don’t notice problems until the damage is advanced. I recommend training your pet to allow their mouth to be examined and checking the teeth once a week.
Start by just stroking around the mouth when your pet is relaxed and then offer a tasty reward. Slowly build up to lifting the lip at the font of the mouth, and then at the sides, until you can see the outside of all the teeth easily. With a dog you can also open the mouth for a quick look inside; easy if your dog expects you to follow up with a treat!
What you should see is clean, white to ivory coloured teeth (the teeth naturally get darker with age) with pink gums (some black and brown pigment is normal in most dogs and cats). The breath should not smell offensive. Brown tartar on the teeth, especially accompanied by red or bleeding gum edges, indicates dental disease. Left untreated, the gums will recede leaving sore exposed tooth roots.
Once gum recession has started the only course of action your vet can take is to remove the teeth. Chipped and broken teeth can sometimes be filled and restored but may need to be removed to prevent painful abscesses. If there is extensive tartar and red gums your vet can scale and polish the teeth under anaesthetic. Don’t fall for anyone offering to scale your pet’s teeth while they are conscious; they will not be able to clean properly under the gumline.
To prevent dental disease, or to prevent it recurring after veterinary treatment, I advise daily tooth brushing with an enzyme-based pet toothpaste. Some cats will tolerate brushing, but, if not, they will get some benefit from licking the toothpaste off their fur, or off their dinner. If you start slowly with dogs, most accept toothbrushing. I start with the outer surface of the back teeth and work forwards.
With an enzyme-based paste it is not necessary to brush the inside surface of the teeth. You should make toothbrushing part of your daily routine from a young age. Dental chews are not the best way to keep teeth clean; they can help in small dogs, but large dogs tend to bite off and swallow large lumps rather than gnawing on them as intended. These chews are also quite high in calories and can contribute to obesity.
Chew toys, rope raggies, antlers, and raw bones are sometimes suggested to keeping teeth clean, but they should be inspected regularly for wear or damage. Hard chews (including raw bones, nylon chews, and antlers) can sometimes cause tooth fractures and should be used with caution in strong chewing dogs like Labradors and Staffies.