The Importance of Dental Home Care

Did you know that over 80% of cats and dogs over 3 years of age suffer from some degree of dental disease? Thankfully, the majority of dental problems are treatable and most are preventable.

Saliva contains various minerals which can crystallise within a plaque biofilm to form a hard calculus (tartar), if the plaque is allowed to establish on the tooth surface. This then becomes a haven for bacteria to flourish and build-up causing gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), and ultimately if left can result in infection, abscess formation and loosening of the teeth due to the attachments being destroyed.

Dental disease can cause pain and discomfort (think about when we have toothache), but pets are very good at hiding signs of pain until it progresses, and so dental disease may go unnoticed for a period of time.

Signs such as reluctance to play or chew toys, reluctance to eat, pawing at the mouth, redness of the gums, bad breath, bleeding gums, visible tartar build-up and salivation, may all indicate dental issues.

Unmanaged dental disease can also lead to further health problems. Bacteria and toxins from the mouth enters the pet’s blood stream and can lead to problems with other body organs and systems such as the heart, liver and kidneys, and so any dental interventions advised by your vet should ideally be followed up as soon as possible.


To help reduce plaque build-up and subsequent tartar formation, tooth brushing is the “gold-standard” of oral home care for dogs and cats. Imagine if you didn’t brush your teeth for months or years!


For tooth brushing to be effective, it should be performed once daily, and no less than every other day. Tooth brushing is best started at a young age as puppies and kittens tend to be more open to new experiences, however, most dogs and some cats can be trained to accept tooth-brushing even at an older age.

The procedure should be introduced gradually over a period of time, starting by just placing some toothpaste onto the gums to introduce the taste and texture, then building up to using a toothbrush. Following the procedure with a treat reward or praise can help associate the procedure with a pleasant experience. Specially formulated enzymatic pet toothpastes should be used, which are flavoured to enhance palatability, and they will not foam in the mouth. Human toothpastes contain fluoride which can be harmful if swallowed so should not be used.

Some dogs and cats just won’t tolerate tooth brushing and it should not become a stressful battle with your pet. Alternatives such as dental diets, chews, rinses and water additives can aid in slowing down the build-up of plaque, but are not as effective as manual brushing.

For many dogs and cats, some form of dental work under a general anaesthetic, such as scaling and polishing, or potentially extractions, are needed at some point later in life, with the incidence of such procedures being greatly reduced if a good dental home care routine has been established through the pet’s life. For many owners, often they don’t realise how much a dental issue has affected their pet until after veterinary dental work has been performed and their pet is “like a young pup again”. Even at this stage a good dental home care routine can be started to help maintain a healthy mouth.


Above shows a 12 year old dog’s teeth prior to dental scaling (top) and the same dog following dental scaling (bottom)!

If you would like a demonstration on how to brush your pet’s teeth or further advice on dental home care, why not book an appointment for a FREE Nurse Clinic. Please call the surgery on 01325 380111.