The best prevention is brushing every day. Brushing should be introduced at an early age and made to be a fun experience. If a pet already has the beginnings of dental disease when brushing is introduced, then the swollen and bleeding gums will create a painful and negative experience. If a pet is older, brushing can be started after the teeth have had a professional scaled and polished by a veterinarian so that any infection present in the mouth has been treated and gingivitis has been reversed.
A soft bristled toothbrush should be used, as well as toothpaste designed for pets. The active ingredients in these products are enzymes such as Glucose Oxidase and Lactoperoxidase, which inhibit the formation of plaque. The packaging should have the term “Enzymatic Toothpaste”. Avoid any product containing Xylitol, as this product is toxic to dogs and cats.
Pet toothpaste does not foam or contain fluoride and can be safely swallowed. It comes in a variety of flavours, and when used regularly it has been proven to reduce plaque and tartar accumulation by over 70%.
Next to brushing, dental diets are the best way to prevent tartar buildup and dental calculus. Dental diets are nutritionally balanced to meet the day-to-day needs of healthy animals. These diets typically contain 3 or more different features or additives to assist with preventing dental disease.
- Kibble Size: The kibbles are usually larger in comparison to other diets. This forces the animal to bite into the kibble. Increased fiber blends hold the kibble together while the animal chews providing a “mechanical scrubbing action”, kind of like an edible toothbrush.
- Reduced Calcium/Calcium Binders: Dental diets also have either reduced calcium (Hills, Purina) or sodium polyphosphate/sodium tripolyphosphate (Royal Canin), an ingredient which binds with the calcium part of plaque. This prevents plaque from attaching to the enamel. Don’t worry; this only works in the mouth. These diets are formulated so that your pet will still be getting the right amount of digested calcium so that their bones stay strong!
- Zinc or other antiseptic additives: Zinc is added to slow down tartar buildup and provide antiseptic properties, helping with bad breath.
- Antioxidants: Some diets have green tea polyphenols, blueberries or other natural antioxidants that help the immune system. A strong immune system helps the body with its fight against the bacteria that causes plaque and gingivitis.
Study results show that dental diets prevent plaque and tartar accumulation by 35%.
Keep in mind that most dogs (and people!) chew more on one side than the other, and the majority of prevention is based on the diet’s ability to scrape off plaque and tartar. This means that some pets on dental diets will have one side all nice and shiny, and the other has tartar and gum irritation.
There are a variety of treats and chews available that can also help to prevent tartar buildup. Alone they are not enough to keep the mouth clean, but every little bit helps!
- Dental chews usually have the same enzymes as pet toothpaste to inhibit the formation of plaque.
- Dental treats usually follow the example of dental diets, using the mechanical scrubbing action as the pet bites into it.
- There are also chew toys available that allow toothpaste to be placed into their grooves (KONG), and other natural chews and toys (rawhides, Nyla bones) that work like a toothbrush to scrape off plaque and tartar. These toys should be used with caution, as they can cause severe damage to teeth and gums if the pet is too aggressive when chewing them. Just like people that brush too hard, chewing on hard plastic toys can cause gum recession, creating pockets for bacteria to grow. Aggressive chewing can also chip or fracture teeth, exposing the root and causing severe damage. All toys should be supervised and removed if any blood is seen while chewing.
There are a large number of “natural “ products on the market; unfortunately only a few have been proven to help with dental disease prevention.
- Leba III is an herbal supplement that has been found in trials to soften the existing tartar on the surface of the tooth and allow it to disintegrate. It contains herbs such as mint and roses. There is no taste and no side effects. The liquid is sprayed once daily in the mouth.
- Water additives such as Essential, HealthyMouth and Virbac Aquadent have participated in studies that have shown that they are “helpful in the prevention of plaque accumulation”. The amount of this effectiveness is unclear, but they are not dangerous and do seem to mask halitosis (bad breath) for a short period of time. Be cautious with these products as well as some do contain the toxic product Xylitol!