Pet Q&A: Regular dental care important for all dogs

09/04/2012 12:00 AM

09/04/2012 4:37 PM

Are you aware of any genetic problems with small dogs that cause them to have excessive plaque buildup? If so, are there any remedies?

– Via email

As a general rule, the smaller the dog, the faster the plaque buildup. For most dogs and cats, regular dental cleanings (as often as twice a year in some cases) are as important to pets' long-term health as they are to ours. Keeping teeth in good health prevents bad breath, preserves teeth into old age, and protects their organs from the constant shower of bacteria caused by rotting teeth and gums.

Over the course of a lifetime, good dental health will add significantly to your pet's quality of life and perhaps even extend his lifetime.

You should not attempt to clean your dog's teeth with a dental pick because you likely will cause more problems than you'll prevent – damaging the surface of the tooth enamel and, in so doing, giving bacteria a nice little niche to call home. Nor should you patronize a "no- anesthesia" groomer to clean your pet's teeth, since all that does is make bad teeth look better cosmetically.

Start your pet's dental health regimen with a trip to your veterinarian, who should check your pet's mouth, teeth and gums. Then he or she can make recommendations based on what is found. For many pets, that'll mean a complete dentistry under anesthesia, and possibly some periodontal work and even the removal of broken or rotting teeth.

After the problems are treated, at-home care can keep things in good shape. Here are the basics:

Brush or wipe the teeth regularly. Use a toothpaste designed for dogs and cats a couple of times a week at least, although daily is better. A children's soft toothbrush works well, as does one made especially for pets. You can also use a brush that fits over your fingertip, or plain gauze wrapped around your finger. Some vets suggest that gauze may be more readily accepted by cats, especially if dipped in tuna or clam juice first.

Offer teeth-cleaning foods and toys. Diets designed to scrape teeth may help, but these must be used in combination with regular brushing and with toys that help wipe the teeth. Soft chewies or a rope toy are best.

Avoid chews that are rock-hard or are prone to breaking into sharp pieces, as these can break teeth or slice gums. Your veterinarian can also suggest rinses that help keep the teeth and mouth healthier.

With proper home care, you'll slow the buildup of plaque and increase the time between cleanings by your veterinarian.

– Dr. Marty Becker

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