Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Guidelines for home dental care

Dental homecare is preventative maintenance. It can not correct a problem once one has developed. Moreover, if there is a painful condition in the mouth, brushing will be very unpleasant for the animal and we do not want that. Therefore, a homecare program should only be started after a very thorough oral evaluation to ensure that there are no problems that need treatment prior to starting brushing.

The goal with a homecare program is to be brushing your pet’s teeth on a daily basis to remove plaque before it becomes firmly attached to the tooth surface and before it mineralizes to become tartar. Plaque will form on a clean tooth within hours and can start to form tartar within a few days. Therefore brushing daily will be far more effective than doing it two or three times a week.

When starting a homecare program, it is important to start slowly, letting your pet get use to each new phase before moving to the next. By introducing the program in small, easy to accept steps, and by including lots of positive reinforcement, most pets will come to truly enjoy having their teeth brushed. This is neither a contest nor a race. Take it as slowly as necessary to avoid upsetting your pet, because once they decide they do not like what you are doing, it will take a long time to overcome that.

Here are eight steps you can take to help maintain your pet’s dental health.

Step 1
When to start? As soon as possible. Eight to 12 weeks old is best. Pets don’t need maintenance this young, but by brushing once or twice weekly they will become familiar with the routine when the permanent teeth erupt. It is a good idea to stop brushing while your pet is losing its baby teeth as the mouth will be a bit sore and your poking around with the brush will cause more pain. Once all the permanent teeth are in you can pick up where you left off.

Step 2
The first step is to work with your pet’s mouth. With a little patience your pet will soon accept your attention. Make it fun for both of you. Use a lot of love and especially praise to gain their confidence. Try to have your practice sessions at the same time each day so your pet gets into a routine. Late in the evening often works well, as everyone involved is generally in a quiet mood then. If your pet is highly motivated by food, try just before dinner with the meal acting as a reward for co-operating.

Step 3
Start by handling the muzzle and tickling the lips and soon you will be able to rub the teeth and gums with your finger. Put a few drops of water, flavoured with garlic or garlic salt for dogs and tuna juice for cats, in the mouth daily. They will soon look forward to this treat.

Step 4
Next, use a washcloth or piece of pantyhose, wrapped around the end of your finger and flavoured as above, to gently rub the teeth. Start with the front teeth and gradually work towards the back teeth.

Step 5
Finally, use a soft toothbrush to brush the teeth. There are several veterinary brushes available and many human brushes are well suited to animal use as well. Hold the brush at a 45 degree angle to the tooth and brush back and forth or from gum to tip. Brushing the tongue side of the teeth is less critical. Use the garlic water or tuna juice. Make it a game.

Step 6
There is an ever growing selection of veterinary tooth washes, pastes and gels. Your veterinarian can help you select the one best suited to your situation. These products all increase the effectiveness of your home-care program but remember, it’s the brushing that does most of the cleaning. Brushing daily has been shown to be far more effective than three times a week and is easier to remember than every other day. Human tooth paste is to be avoided as it will cause stomach upset if swallowed. Baking soda, with its very high sodium content can be dangerous to older patients. Hydrogen peroxide can be too harsh for the gums and must not be swallowed.

Step 7
It helps to give mildly abrasive foods and toys such as dry kibble, raw hide strips and dense rubber chew-toys. The Veterinary Oral Health Council has undertaken to certify products that make claims of providing some dental benefit. To date, they have placed their stamp of approval on Hills® Prescription Diet™® t/d (original size, small bites and feline) and Friskies® Feline Dental Diet. Both of these maintenance foods have been shows to help keep teeth cleaner when compared to standard dry diets. Avoid natural bones, dried cow hooves and hard nylon toys as these are hard enough to fracture teeth.

Step 8
By following a consistent program of home-care, you will greatly improve you pet’s dental health. This will mean fewer professional cleanings, less tooth loss and a happier, healthier pet. However, please remember that there is no substitute for professional veterinary care. We must work as a team to ensure a long and happy life for your pet.

homecare1.jpg (10613 bytes) Start by handling the muzzle and tickling your pet's teeth.

homecare2.jpg (10003 bytes) Get them used to your hands in their mouth by rubbing their gums with your fingers.

homecare3.jpg (9629 bytes) Now you're ready to try brushing the outside of their front teeth. Toothpaste is not strictly required – the brushing does most of the cleaning.

homecare4.jpg (9419 bytes) When your pet is really comfortable, you'll be able to brush the outsides of their back teeth as well.

homecare5.jpg (8620 bytes) And don't forget a little reward for your pet after every dental care session.

This information and photos came from www.toothvet.ca
Be sure to visit their website for more on homecare.

Fraser Hale, DVM, FAVD, dipAVD
Phone: 1-866-TOOTHVET
(toll-free in Ontario, except 807 area)

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