Dental Health for Pets — What You Need to Know

veterinarian examining dog's mouth

Just like their human companions, our pets need regular cleaning and checkups to make sure their teeth and gums are healthy. Dental problems can lead to periodontal disease and serious infections if left unchecked. Following these simple tips can help your pet live a longer, healthier life.

Get Regular Checkups

Prevention can catch early signs of serious issues or disease. Veterinarians start by checking your pet’s mouth on the first visit. As pets age, veterinarians will examine them for developmental anomalies, accumulation of plaque and tartar, periodontal disease, and oral tumors. Catching any of these early can help you avoid more costly procedures later.

Consider Annual Professional Cleaning

Generally, cats and small dogs should start annual cleanings around the one-year mark. Larger breed dogs can start at year two. But you’ll want to check with your veterinarian to see what they recommend for your pet.

These cleanings are typically done under anesthesia to allow the veterinarian to clean beneath the gum line or perform any extractions if necessary. This also gives them the chance to identify any issues before they become more serious.

Brush Your Pet’s Teeth Every Day

Just like humans, our dogs need daily teeth brushing. While veterinarians recommend daily brushings, any time you can do this for your pet will help stave off plaque, tartar, and infection. Regular tooth-brushing helps keep periodontal disease at bay, and prevention is a lot better than costly and painful procedures down the line.

Small dog getting its teeth brushed by older owner who is using a finger brush

Get your pet used to your fingers in their mouths as soon as possible. It can be a bonding experience, but be patient — it may take a while for your dog to get used to it. Constant positive reinforcement with their favorite treats always helps.

To start brushing, you’ll need a few tools. Get a specially designed pet toothbrush or a finger toothbrush — whatever works best based on mouth size and comfort. If your dog won’t tolerate a toothbrush, try a small piece of washcloth or even gauze.

You’ll also need toothpaste specifically designed for pets, which comes in flavors like chicken or beef. Never use human toothpaste, which often contains xylitol, an additive that is dangerous for dogs.

Even if you don’t manage to do it every single day, making time to brush your pet’s teeth regularly will help prevent periodontal disease.

Treats and Chews

It isn’t all veterinary appointments and sticking your hand in your pup’s mouth. Your veterinarian likely carries a variety of dental chews and treats. They’re usually made with a special texture that helps clean the teeth and enzymes that reduce plaque. Dental chews and treats come in many shapes and sizes, and there are even some geared toward seniors.

Check with a veterinarian to see which toothbrushes, toothpastes, and dental treats or chews they recommend. Make dental care part of your regular routine and your furry friend will thank you!