Keep your pet's teeth healthy

Feb 4, 2013 at 3:00 a.m. ET

Much like human dental health, dental health for pets is incredibly important and neglecting it can lead to health issues that go far beyond the mouth.

Woman brushing yorkie's teeth

We will never be able to teach our dogs and cats to brush their teeth but there are some preventative measures you can use to keep their dental health in check.

In the wild, animal's teeth are kept clean and tartar-free thanks to the raw animals they eat. As unappetizing as it may sound, the muscle fibers, bone pieces and other body parts serve to both brush and floss wild animals' teeth. Most of us aren't letting our four-legged friends fend for themselves or feeding them raw meat, so we have to intervene. Common kibble not only doesn't scrape and clean their teeth but it can also build up, causing tartar issues and various dental concerns. Luckily there are some simple ways to keep your pet's teeth clean and their breath fresh.

Brush daily

If your response when the vet asks how often you brush your pet's teeth is similar to your response when your dentist asks you how often you floss, you aren't alone. The vast majority of pet owners don't even consider brushing their pet's teeth ever much less daily. However just like humans, pets eat daily and ideally their teeth should be brushed daily. If you can't commit to brushing daily, consider doing it each time you give your dog a bath or at the very least weekly. The frequency of brushing can also be determined by your dogs chewing habits. Dogs who like to chew and have access to proper material to chew on may require less frequent brushing.

There are various brushes on the market from what looks like a basic human tooth brush to rubber brushes you can slip on your finger. The best way to get your pet to put up with a daily brushing routine is to start while they are young. But if that isn't an option start slow, reassuring them with positive feedback and even a few treats. Many pet stores even offer toothpaste for pets but it isn't necessary. The beef-flavored toothpaste may make them more agreeable to the process though. Do not use human toothpaste for pets and avoid using human toothbrushes as they may irritate a pet's sensitive gums.

Let them chew

In between brushings, or if your pet causes a scene anytime you break out the toothbrush, make sure they are chewing regularly on natural animal products. Bully sticks, ligaments or other jerky type chews will most closely mimic what raw meat would do and they aren't loaded with fillers or other processed ingredients. Select bones based on your dog's chewing habits. Larger dogs and more aggressive chewers will need harder bones while smaller dogs or those that don't really like to chew should have something a little softer. Unlike dogs, you might be hard pressed to get your cat to chew on a bone so instead look for products specifically designed for cat's dental health.

Give them treats

There are several treats aimed specifically at helping keep your pet's mouth clean, but these should be used sparingly. Most of the treats are soft and small meaning your pet has to do little work to gobble them down which does very little for their teeth. They typically have peppermint or other flavors in them designed to help with bad breath but really don't do much for their teeth. Treats shouldn't be used as a primary means of ensuring dental health.

Sprays and gels

If you notice that your pet already has quite a bit of tarter build up there are products on the market that say they will help dissolve plaque and tarter. From sprays to gels that you can smear on their teeth, the products are typically made from natural ingredients and essential oils. The results vary but if the problem isn't severe this could be a solution for your pet. The sprays are typically quick and easy to use and may be helpful for pets that really don't like a toothbrush in their mouth.

Talk to your vet

Most vets offer dental cleaning services. The prices can range depending on the severity of your pet's problem and their size. In many cases a dental cleaning will be required at some point in your pet's life. Pets do have to be anesthetized during the procedure though so prevention is key to helping you avoid a major cleaning. Dental problems left untreated can cause tooth decay resulting in loss of teeth, infections or even build up of plaque in your pet's arteries.

Your vet may also recommend specialty foods to help with your pet's dental health or various other methods to help keep their teeth clean.

Fess up!

How often do you brush your pet's teeth?

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