A Message from the Vet - October 2009
Toothbrushing Basics


Dental disease is the most common disease in pet dogs and cats. On a daily basis, at least 75% of pets we see have some degree of dental disease manifesting as bad breath, tartar buildup, loose or fractured teeth, bleeding gums, or abscess formation. Not only is it a cause of pain and poor quality of life, but it has also been linked to immune system suppression as well as heart, brain, liver, and kidney disease. Just as our dentists urge us to floss daily, I encourage you to perform simple daily brushing to remove the plaque buildup on your pet's teeth before it hardens into tartar (occurs in less than 36 hours!) and becomes a source of infection.

The best time to start brushing is with a clean and healthy mouth, such as with a young puppy or kitten, or after professional dental cleaning. This allows brushing without the discomfort associated with existing dental disease and infection. Focus on brushing the outer surface of the upper back teeth at first; this is the area that will benefit most from daily brushing. If possible, brushing all surfaces of all teeth is ideal.

A soft-bristled toothbrush is necessary to get below the gum line, which is the most important area to brush. Pet toothbrushes are sold in a variety of sizes to accommodate differently sized mouths. Veterinary toothpaste is edible, flavored to appeal to your dog or cat, and contains helpful enzymes in preventing plaque buildup. Human toothpaste may cause problems and should be avoided.

Most pets won't immediately sit quietly and hold their mouth open for brushing, but with patience and consistency, you can teach your dog or cat that brushing is fun! Or at least that they'll get a tasty treat for putting up with it! First, pick a time of day that fits into your daily routine with your dog or cat, preferably before social play or a treat, so that your pet looks forward to brushing time. The first day, offer a taste of the veterinary toothpaste off your finger. The next day, let them taste the toothpaste and immediately run your finger along the gums of the upper teeth. After a few days of this, perform this slow introduction with the toothbrush instead of your finger. Eventually get the bristles of the brush angled toward the gum line so the bristles are getting under the gum line, and make small circles along the gum line from back to front. The overall brushing process should take less than 30 seconds.

IMPORTANT: Do not try to brush the whole mouth at first. The key is to start slowly and be sure to follow each step with lots of praise and a treat!

Just as with people, even with home dental care, professional cleaning may become necessary. However, daily brushing will likely delay the onset of dental disease, reduce the frequency and extent of dental cleanings, and help your pet have fresher breath and a healthier smile.

There's no better time to start than today! Stop by and pick up a toothbrushing starter kit for you and your furry friend!

Jill Yoshicedo, DVM

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Last updated 2014 May 10.