Oral homecare is an incredibly important way to reduce the risk of dental disease in adults and children. It is a practice that most households in the UK engage with daily, and it ultimately will reduce the risk of that dreaded trip to the dentist. Brushing our teeth with toothpaste is the primary means of employing oral homecare in humans, and the practice is aimed at reducing plaque build-up, and therefore the risk of certain types of dental diseases such as periodontitis.
The oral health of our pets in the UK is often forgotten about, but yet is a topic that is often discussed in veterinary clinics on a daily basis across the country. The fact that dental disease could be one of the most significant welfare concerns in the UK today1, comes as quite a shock. In the UK currently, 90% of dogs and 70% of cats are affected with dental disease2 . But how then do we prevent dental disease in our beloved companions?
The simple answer is toothbrushing. If it’s the best practice for us, it’s also the best practice for them. Plaque is a soft substance that adheres to the tooth surface. It is a natural process of accumulation that occurs throughout the day whilst we eat and drink. If left in place, plaque will lead to gingivitis, and inflammation of the gums, – the first stage of periodontal disease – and if allowed to progress, can result in pain, infection and ultimately tooth loss. Toothbrushing in humans, as in dogs, removes the soft, vulnerable plaque from the surface of the teeth and gum line, which significantly reduces the risk of gingivitis from occurring.
It’s easy to say ‘get on with it then’, but brushing our pets teeth can be a significant challenge for many owners. Here are some simple steps to make things easier:
Always remember – It’s never too late to start dental training with your pet!
- It’s essential to build up a positive relationship with your companion when it comes to handling them, as well as a positive association around their face and mouth. Use a high value, unique treat solely for this purpose to gain their trust when handling their face and mouth. Start off with touching their face, lifting their lips and rewarding them for allowing you to do this.
- This is an opportunity to teach your dog, or cat, some basic commands such as ‘sit’, and ‘open mouth’. Using your unique treat, this could also be a bit of fun for your pet, and over time, they will respond to these commands.
- The next natural step is to then build confidence with physically opening their mouth and touching their teeth, followed of course with your unique treat. This may take some time, but perseverance will bring rewards.
- Once your pet is happy with you handling their mouth and face, opening their mouth and touching their teeth, now is the time to introduce the toothpaste, and there are plenty of pet specific toothpastes on the market to choose from. Never use human toothpaste on your pet as it can be toxic for them. If you are unsure, talk to your veterinary practice for advice. Spend some time letting them taste their toothpaste first over days or weeks, then introduce the toothbrush, either as a finger brush, or a pet specific traditional toothbrush. Circular motions are the key for best results on the surface of the teeth. Take time to practice.
- Finally and most importantly, take your time, and allow your pet to adapt to this new adventure with you. There is no rush on this, there is no need to clean all their teeth in the one brushing session. Some toothbrushing is always better than no toothbrushing.
- Summers, J.F., O’Neill, D.G., Church, D., Collins, L., Sargan, D. and Brodbelt, D.C., 2019. Health-related welfare prioritisation of canine disorders using electronic health records in primary care practice in the UK. BMC Veterinary Research, 15, pp.1-20.
- Royal Veterinary College. Available at: https://www.rvc.ac.uk/review/Dentistry/Shared_Media/pdfs/perio_print.pdf
Paul Carlton BVMS MRCVS