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Brushing Your Pet's Teeth

Randy Walker DVM

Are There Really Pet Owners Who Brush Their Pet's Teeth?

Yes. A growing number of pet owners brush their pet's teeth on a regular basis.

What Are The Benefits To Brushing My Pet's Teeth?

The benefits of brushing your pet's teeth are basically the same as for brushing your own. The main benefits are improved oral hygiene, less gum disease (periodontal disease), and less halitosis (bad breath). Also, since gum disease has now been conclusively shown to be linked with heart, kidney and liver disease (transmitted through the bloodstream), brushing your pet's teeth can be very beneficial to overall health.

How Do You Brush A Pet's Teeth?

This will vary from pet to pet. Most pets do best with a pet toothpaste applied with a soft bristle tooth brush. Gently lift the gums back and brush the teeth in a smooth up and down motion. Remember, gentleness and patience usually achieve the best results. (See Normal Canine Dentition and Normal Feline Dentition).

Are There Differences In Toothbrushes?

Yes. Most pet owners find that a brush which has an extra-long reach and one which is angled works best when brushing someone else's teeth (other than your own). A brush with an extra-long reach is especially handy when brushing most dog's teeth because they have such long mouths. Another very popular design today is a product called a "finger brush". The finger brush is a soft rubber covering that fits on the end of your finger. It has soft bristles on one side for brushing the teeth and many pets tolerate this better than a conventional brush while many pet owners find it easier to use.

Are There Differences In Toothpastes?

Yes. Its important to use only a toothpaste formulated especially for dogs and cats. We do not recommend salt, baking soda, human toothpaste, or any other product as a substitute.

Why Is It Important To Use A Pet Toothpaste Instead Of My Regular Human Toothpaste?

Many dogs and cats will become nauseous (get an upset stomach) or get diarrhea on human toothpaste primarily because their stomach has a different pH than ours. Also, dogs and cats don't realize that they should rinse and spit the toothpaste out so they usually end up swallowing much of it. The pet toothpaste is formulated to be more compatible with tile pet's system.

Why Do You Prefer The Enzymatic Toothpaste Over Other Pet Toothpastes?

While the enzymatic toothpaste does a good job in general cleaning of the teeth, it also has the added advantage of having the specific enzymes present which work to continue to break down the tartar and bacteria after you finish brushing. This is as beneficial as the actual mechanical brushing itself. Also, an enzymatic toothpaste that is compatible with your pet's system usually tastes pretty good so pets accept it better.

I've Heard That Baking Soda Or Baking Soda And Salt Makes A Good Toothpaste. Is This True?

Although they are widely touted, baking soda and salt (either alone or in combination) are far from ideal for a pet tooth paste. Baking soda can sometimes cause alkalosis (shifting of the blood pH into the basic range and making the patient ill) and this can be especially difficult for older patients to deal with. Salt can also cause GI upsets and/or diarrhea.

How Do I Get Started With Brushing My Dog's Teeth?

This will vary from pet to pet with no single approach being the best for all pets. I find that in the majority of cases the best approach is to simply brush all the teeth in a gentle, patient manner. If your pet does not at first accept this, several alternative methods can be tried. One is to brush a single tooth one day, then the next day brush that tooth and the one next to it; then the day after brush those two teeth and the one next to them and so on until gradually all the teeth are being brushed. Another trick that sometimes works is to dip the brush into bouillon broth or something else good tasting to get the patient accustomed to the brush first, then use the toothpaste.

Do I Have To Brush All The Teeth In My Pet's Mouth?

Of course to brush all the teeth is ideal and should be strived for. Some teeth are more '"problem teeth" than others, however, so if choices need to be made (such as when the patient won't tolerate prolonged brushing) its best to take care of these "problem areas" first. The main "problem" area" in most dog's mouths is the outside surface of the upper cheek teeth so we usually brush these areas (both sides) first. This is an especially bad area because one of the salivary glands secretes just above these teeth causing bacteria to grow there and food particles to decay faster and also food particles are held here between the teeth and cheek. This leads to more tartar and bacteria which in turn leads to increased tooth and gum disease. The second biggest problem area is usually the canine teeth (also called the eye teeth or fang teeth). Next we want to brush the front teeth (called the incisors), then if possible we want to brush the inside surfaces of all the teeth.

What Are The Chances That My Pet Will Accept Brushing?

We estimate that with patience and persistence 80-90% of dogs and cats will let us brush their teeth.

How Often Should I Brush My Pet's Teeth?

As with people, pets benefit more from more frequent brushing. I have some clients who brush their pet's teeth up to three times a day (and have pets with nearly perfect teeth and gums). The minimum frequency for brushing your pet's teeth seems to be about once a week. If you can brush your pet's teeth 2 or 3 times weekly this usually gives good results and is the maximum that most people can work into their schedules. The more often you can manage to brush your pet's teeth the better the results will be.

If I Brush The Teeth Regularly Will My Pet Still Need Routine Dental Cleaning?

For most pets the best approach is to brush the teeth regularly and also have dental cleaning performed periodically (usually annually). Although brushing is an important aid to dental hygiene, it is usually used in addition to and not in place of periodic dental cleaning.

What If I Get Started Brushing My Pet's Teeth At Home And Have Problems?

If you have problems, we can demonstrate how we brush the teeth.

- Randy Walker DVM
Sun Lakes Animal Clinic
May 14,2004

"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened."
- Anatole France, 1921 Nobel Prize Speech -

Titlebar Image: The Gentle Doctor, 1937-38 by Christian Peterson (U84.179) - Iowa State University