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After learning all about the importance of keeping their pet's teeth clean during Pet Dental Month (in February), many owners want to start their pets on the road to good dental health right away.
Good dental hygiene starts with a healthy mouth, which is why owners should have their dog's teeth and gums checked by their veterinarian. At home, it is important to remember not to use human toothpaste or baking soda. Both can make a dog sick. There are different products available to clean your pet's teeth, including toothpastes, gels toothbrushes, treats and diets, that can help prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar. Deciding on which one to use often depends on the temperament and age of your dog or cat.
Starting off pets when they are young is the best way to get them to accept regular teeth cleaning. Dental care can begin around 3 or 4 months of age. You can get your puppy used to having his teeth cleaned by gently rubbing and massaging his gums with a finger wrapped with gauze. For detailed information on brushing, see the story How to Brush Your Dog's Teeth.
Finger Brushes, Toothbrushes and Gels
The next step to dental care is the finger brush. This small, thimble-like device uses soft bristles to clean under the gum line. The finger brush is placed over the index finger and circular motions help dislodge particles that can cause periodontitis, the most common ailment seen in dogs. The finger brush may prove to be less unnerving than a foreign object like a toothbrush. It is a good way to introduce your dog to regular brushing, and you may be able to graduate to a toothbrush.
Toothbrushes for dogs are designed a little differently than a child's toothbrush. They are small and single-ended, and have an angled head suited more for a dog's mouth.
The pet toothpaste for both is designed with enzymes to prevent plaque from forming. Toothpaste comes in a variety of pet-pleasing flavors. For dogs, there is beef, chicken and even peanut flavors.
However, some dogs absolutely refuse any sort of brush in their mouth. For these recalcitrant pets, oral hygiene gels can help maintain their teeth. Gels contain the enzymes found in toothpastes.
Owners smear a little onto the gum surface with their fingers once every day, or they can mix a little with food. This will encourage salivation, which then covers the gums and teeth. The gel contains mild abrasives that help break down and prevent plaque.
Treats and Formulated Diets
When it comes to teeth, certain types of dog food are better than others. Kibble dog food is hard and the grinding action serves to help reduce plaque and tartar buildup. Canned dog food, on the other hand, is soft and can cling to teeth and gums, encouraging plaque formation.
The Veterinary Oral Health Council recommends a number of diets and treats. The council evaluates commercial products to determine if they meet the standards necessary to control plaque and tartar in dogs and cats. The council is appointed by the board of directors of the American Veterinary Dental College, and reviews products that are submitted to them. Products that meet the standards are endorsed with the statement "Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Accepted®." Here are three diets the council recommends: