The words “dental health” cause anxiety for many people. And, why not? Visits to the dentist are stressful. The sounds of the drills, the anticipation of pain, and the price tag can all contribute to a negative experience.

So, perhaps it’s easy to understand that pet owners may have the same negative feelings about their furry friends’ oral health. But, dental health is no less important for them than it is for us.

Many animals silently suffer with painful dental disease, even though they may continue to eat and drink normally. Untreated dental disease works its way farther and farther under the gum line and up the tooth, causing a breakdown of the ligament holding the tooth in the mouth. Eventually, this will progress to the jaw bone, where it can cause infection and bone loss. Abscesses and blood infections can result from the large bacterial load in the mouth, and the bacteria can spread through the blood to other major organs, having an impact on overall health, too.

Even if no visible tartar or calculus (the dental kind, not math) exists, disease can still be present under the gum line. For instance, cats are prone to resorptive lesions, which attack and slowly eat away at tooth roots but don’t always affect the visible portion of the tooth.

Only a professional dental cleaning conducted by our veterinary health care team can reverse or treat your pet’s existing dental disease. But, to help prevent future dental disease from occurring, you should institute a daily brushing regimen in your home. Why is brushing your pet’s teeth so important? Because:

  • Special dental foods and other products don’t clean all surfaces of the teeth or under the gum line.
  • Who wants a puppy kiss from a mouth that smells like a sewer?
  • Proper home care can prolong the time between professional dental cleanings and reduce the likelihood that your pet will need more extensive dental work done, like tooth extractions.
  • All it takes is 2–3 minutes a day. And, with the proper foundation, it’s a fun bonding activity that the whole family can participate in.

With a whole list of pros, and the only cost being the supplies and a few minutes a day, the question is, can you afford not to start brushing your pet’s teeth? Because it can seem like a daunting task, here is your step-by-step guide to begin a daily oral health regimen for your furry friend.

8 steps to successful tooth brushing:

  1. Pick a routine and stick to it. Same time, same place, every day, as best as you can. Before or after breakfast or dinner ensures consistency without your pet bugging you at other times of the day.
  2. Withhold a few pieces of kibble from said meal to use as rewards so brushing doesn’t increase your pet’s calorie intake. Only use high-value treats as a last resort.
  3. Begin the first week or two (or longer if needed) by getting your pet accustomed to having someone messing with her mouth. Practice gently lifting her lips to expose her teeth—front, top, bottom, and both sides. Reward with treats and praise after each second or two of interaction. Creating this positive connection between you and your pet’s mouth is the most important step, so take as much time as she needs to feel comfortable.
  4. Find a pet-specific toothpaste that your dog or cat finds tasty and introduce it to the session by placing a small amount on your finger and letting your pet lick it off like a treat. Slowly progress to rubbing the toothpaste on her teeth.
  5. Start the “brushing” process. Begin with introducing the toothbrush and move to brushing one tooth at a time. Slowly increase the amount of time between treats and how much “brushing” you do.
  6. Keep your interactions short—no more than 2–3 minutes.
  7. Stop the session if your pet reacts negatively. For the next few days, take a step or two back until she’s comfortable enough to move forward, and then slowly do so.
  8. Consistency is key. If you miss a day or two here or there, don’t sweat it! Just don’t let a couple of missed days turn into a month or stopping completely.

Keeping your pet’s mouth in tip-top shape is not only good for her, it’s also good for you. It will improve your pet’s oral health and her overall health, and it will grow the bond you share. Schedule an appointment today for your pet’s dental exam and to pick up your new brushing supplies.