Pet Teeth Cleaning

Pet teeth cleaning requires a partnership between the pet's owner and his veterinarian to be successful. Clean teeth help your pet's health in important ways that are not immediately obvious to a pet owner.

Why Clean a Pet's Teeth?

When your pet eats, food debris and saliva create plaque on his teeth. If the plaque remains on your pet's teeth, it hardens into calculus or tartar. Built-up tartar can lead to gum disease, which can cause tooth loss. Signs of dental problems in pets include drooling, appetite loss, bleeding gums and bad breath.

Dental disease has been linked to other health problems in pets, including heart, liver and kidney problems; diabetes; osteoporosis; and emphysema. The American Veterinary Dental Society estimates that 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats in North America show signs of dental disease by age 3.

Home Dental Care

Ideally, you will begin training your dog or cat to have his teeth brushed when he is young (about 6 months of age). Start by using a soft-bristled brush and specially formulated pet toothpaste. Get your pet accustomed to the taste and feel of the toothpaste by first letting him lick a small amount off your finger each day.

When your pet looks forward to toothpaste time, then you can begin training him to accept the toothbrush in his mouth. Start by gently rubbing some toothpaste on your pet's front teeth and gums with your finger. Praise him when he accepts your finger in his mouth, and reward him with a dental chew treat afterward. After a few days, your pet should be accustomed to the feeling, and you can substitute the toothbrush for your finger. Allow your pet to lick the toothpaste off the brush for a few days before you actually begin cleaning his teeth with it.

Brush the outside surfaces of your pet's teeth. Use a circular motion, and brush away from the tooth. Start with his front teeth and gradually work your way toward his back teeth as he becomes more comfortable with the brushing process. Don't worry about trying to brush the inside surfaces (by the tongue) of your pet's teeth because your pet's tongue action helps keep his teeth clean on that side.

Daily brushing is recommended to help keep your pet's teeth in top shape, but brushing every other day will help remove dental plaque before it has a chance to harden.

Professional Dental Care

In addition to at-home care, your pet will benefit from an annual dental examination and cleaning by his veterinarian. He will be anesthetized during the exam so his teeth can be thoroughly cleaned and examined.

The examination usually includes cleaning and plaque removal above and below the pet's gum line, along with polishing. Fluoride or sealants may be applied to your pet's teeth as a cavity preventive.

The cleaning and polishing are followed by an oral exam, probing of your pet's gums and charting to note problem areas. Any problems detected during the exam are taken care of, and the pet is brought out of the anesthetic.