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Dental Care and Health for Dogs & Cats

John F. Prange DVM

Dental disease is the leading health issue in both dogs and cats
over the age of two. Why? Because the pet owner has not been
educated nor trained how to properly manage their pet's oral

If you never brushed your own teeth, how would your health be? Or
how would you like to communicate with everyone else who also did
not manage their own oral hygiene? Many pets have lost a
significant number of their adult teeth by the age of 8-10,
developed kidney, heart and liver diseases because of the low
grade systemic bacterial infections in the blood stream. Dental
disease also challenges the immune system of pets to the point
that their resistance is lowered and they are prone to more
health issues.

The anatomy of the gums and teeth is such that there is a small
natural trough created at the attachment of the gingival tissue
and the tooth called the gingival sulcus. This trough is normally
no more than 1mm in depth. This is the most critical area when
cleaning the plaque from the tooth surface. It is trough that
many bacteria grow.

Volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) are created from bacteria
growing in the mouth and also from the decay of gingival cells.
These cells are normally replaced every few hours in a healthy
pet. They start to create an increased permeability of the
periodontal ligament (This is the disuse that helps hold the
tooth in its bony socket), thereby allowing the bacteria to
escape into the blood stream of the pet. It is the VSC compounds
that also create the halitosis in pets.

Plaque, which initially starts from glycoproteins found in the
saliva, adheres to the enamel of the tooth, attracting bacteria,
food particles and other cellular debris. If the plaque is not
removed within 48-72 hours, it is mineralized from calcium, and
phosphorus in the saliva and minerals in the drinking water to
become dental calculus or tartar.

Once the calculus is formed, more plaque is started on the top of
this calculus, and the process is repeated over and over,
building heavy tartar.

Dental calculus cannot be brushed off the tooth but will need to
be scraped off. Brushing will remove the plaque. We also believe
that if you constantly remove the plaque, the acidic conditions
inside the mouth will cause the tartar to soften.

Pet owners are not educated about plaque, halitosis, dental
calculus or how to train their pet to let them brush its teeth.
Pet trainers can step forward and take on an active role in
educating the pet owner in the proper training procedure for
tooth brushing. This can be incorporated in your early puppy
training and obedience work as you train the pet to accept the
handling of the head, mouth, and the opening and exploring of the
teeth inside the mouth.

Brushing Dog or Cat Teeth

We know that brushing a pet's teeth is not a simple task. You
need to incorporate this into a routine training done daily, and
do it the same time each day, to condition the animal to think,
"Oh, it's time for my master to brush my teeth."

Start out initially just getting the pet used to you, by handling
its head, and mouth, lifting the lip and observing the teeth and
gums on both sides of the pet's face. Next, touch the gum tissue
with your finger so that they get used this sensation. Rub you
finger along the gums and on the teeth. Wrap your finger with
gauze or a soft wash cloth and then touch the gum tissue again.
Rub the teeth and gums with your finger covered with the gauze or
wash cloth. Finally, introduce a tooth brush by just touching and
brushing a small local area. Finally, you will be able to brush
on e side and then the other. Don't forget to do the inside
surface of the tooth.

There is a toothbrush with three heads that will allow you to
brush all three surface of the tooth at one time. Train your pet
with a little brushing done each day. It will take most pet
owners from 8-16 weeks until the pet accepts it readily. Now the
pet realizes it doesn't hurt and that it will get 1-2 minutes of
your undivided attention. Your pet enjoys your attention, and
will eventually wait patiently for you to brush their teeth.

There are many items on the market that can also support the pet
owner at home with dental care.

We know that dry kibble will do a better job of helping to keep
teeth cleaner than wet food. It has more of an abrasive action
when chewed. Now we have special dental diets that will not
fracture when the tooth hits the kibble, but act like a sponge.

When the tooth penetrates the kibble, it produces a mechanical
scraping action. Biscuits also have an abrasive action to help
clean teeth.

There are many helpful dental toys on the market that will also
create abrasive action on the tooth surface to help clean teeth.
There are some that even act like a flossing agent.

Toothbrushes, toothpastes and gels are available for dental care.
You need to be using a very soft toothbrush when brushing your
pet's teeth. The gum tissue is very rapid growing tissue, so you
want to brush that is soft, so you don't cause damage to the
gums. You need a toothbrush that is east to handle, and that
allows you to reach all the teeth in the animal's moth.

It is recommend that you do not us most adult toothpastes on your pet.

Many contain agents that can be harmful to your pet and induce
vomiting. If you are using a pet toothpaste, make sure it doesn't
contain sugars of flavoring agents. If it contains sugars, it
will just cause bacteria to grow faster. If it is flavored, then
the pet is chewing on the toothbrush as your are trying to brush,
and you are not doing an effective job brushing. If you are using
a toothpaste, look for one that has enzymes in it to help remove
the plaque. I recommend you use a gel product containing aloe
vera, chamomile, and Oxygene®. The aloe vera and chamomile are
both very soothing and promote healing of tissue. Oxygene® will
help eliminate odors. The act of brushing will remove the sticky

There are also products on the market that can be added to a
pet's drinking water to help control halitosis. These products
will aid pet owners in managing their pet's oral hygiene. You can
be a source of information about all these additional products
the pet owner could use for oral hygiene support. Remember, it is
estimated that if a pet owner were to manage his pet's oral
health, then the pet would probably live 2-7 years longer and be
a happier, healthier pet. Why not start training your customers
to brush their pet's teeth, starting NOW? By offering this
program, you can make a significant difference in all those pet

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