Brushing your teeth is not just for people, it’s gone to the dogs! February is National Pet Dental Health Month. In this article, we will discuss periodontal disease, biofilm, and various ways to protect your pet from these dangers.


Periodontal disease is defined as infection and inflammation of the tissues that surround and support the teeth due to plaque bacteria. Periodontal disease is the number one health problem in small animal patients. By two years of age, 70% of cats and 80% of dogs have some form of periodontal disease. This is why home dental care is an essential part of the pet’s overall health status as it helps limit pain and infection, saving teeth without extractions.

Biofilm forms on the teeth within 20 minutes after brushing and even after professional dental cleanings. This is a thin, saliva-derived layer that lubricates the oral cavity composed of enzymes and glycoproteins. This layer thickens and allows bacteria to adhere to it. Some of the bacteria go under the gumline into a crevice called the sulcus. Oxygen is hard to reach them here so they change to become anaerobic (without oxygen). This is the bad bacteria that begins to cause inflammation or redness and swelling of the gum tissues. This biofilm turns into plaque within 24 hours. Plaque eventually hardens into the thick substance that can be seen on teeth known as calculus. Once this calculus is on teeth, usually within 3 days, it is much harder to remove without professional dental cleanings. Home care is vital in the prevention and control of plaque before it becomes hard-to-remove calculus.


Here are some tips, tricks, and products to promote home care:


This is the gold standard of home dental care. The mechanical action of the bristles on the teeth and under the gumline help to remove bacteria before it becomes anaerobic and begins to damage the structures around the tooth. It is best to use a soft bristled toothbrush and hold it at a 45° angle to get into the sulcus. It may be a good idea to first start with a finger brush while training and use a flavored toothpaste (must be appropriate for animals, cannot contain fluoride) to help with training.

First, let the pet just lick the toothpaste and once they get used to the flavor, then begin to brush in small amounts. You may only be able to brush a few teeth to start but hopefully the more you do it the more teeth you will eventually be able to brush. Also, brushing before a meal helps as a reminder to actually do the brushing, as well as it allows the food to be given as a reward. This helps to increase compliance with the pet.


Dental Sprays:

If brushing is absolutely impossible, there are other products that may be used. These products shouldn’t be used as a substitute for brushing, but they do help in the long run. One product we have in stock at the clinic is Vetradent Dental Spray. This spray controls tartar by working against bacteria and altering the environment in the pet’s oral cavity. It is scientifically proven to also help with halitosis. Administration is easy; simply lift the pet’s lip and spray onto teeth twice daily.


Oral gel:

Maxi/Guard Oral Cleansing Gel is safe to use daily and provides good pet compliance. It has Zinc Ascorbate and Vitamin C to help oxidize (give oxygen to) the anaerobic bacteria that forms into plaque and causes disease. This is a good product for post-extractions due to the Vitamin C that helps promote healing of the gum tissues. It can be used with or without brushing. If stored properly, one bottle could last for up to 18 months.


Oral wipes:

Another product in the clinic is Maxi/Guard Oral Cleansing Wipes. These are tasteless, odorless wipes that have a special texture that grabs the plaque and physically removes it. The texture is soft enough that it will not damage gum tissue that may already be inflamed. These are beneficial due to the fact that they are the product and applicator in one, distributing the Zinc Ascorbate and cleaning the teeth at the same time.


Treats and food:

Dry pet food is the best to help prevent and control plaque. Once again, the mechanical action of chewing on the kibble helps to remove plaque by “scrubbing” the teeth during chewing. These diets usually have larger kibble and a special texture that allows the tooth to sink into it. Unfortunately, this only cleans the teeth that do the grinding (premolars and molars). It will not clean incisors or canines.

There are several foods and treats on the market that can help with oral care. The Veterinary Oral Health Council is a committee that uses a scientific process to recognize product efficacy, or ability to do what products claim, such as prevent tartar buildup. These products must meet pre-set standards. When choosing treats or food for oral care, look for the VOHC label.

Rawhide chews are a great way to help with oral care, but one must be careful when using them. The pet should chew on it until it becomes soggy and then it should be taken away to allow the chew to harden. If the pet can chew pieces off, it is time to take it away. Large pieces of rawhide can cause GI upset or in severe cases, obstruction . A good rule with rawhides or other chews is that if you can’t press your fingernail into it, it is too hard for your pet. It is not recommended to give antlers because they are far too hard and are known for breaking teeth.



There are several toys on the market that can be used to decrease plaque build-up. However, one must be cautious with toys so an intestinal obstruction does not occur. If the pet is able to chew up the toy and shred it into several pieces, then the toy is not sturdy enough to be used. The toy should be strong enough to not get broken into pieces that may be swallowed. Also, do not use a toy that is too hard that may break teeth. It is best to prevent chewing on tennis balls because the outer fuzz of the ball is actually abrasive and will wear out the enamel or outer protective layer of the teeth.


Professional dental cleanings should be performed annually with home care in between. With all of these recommendations, the main concept is plaque control. Brushing the teeth is the number one best situation, but there are other options to help with home oral care that are just as beneficial and decrease periodontal disease.


In conclusion, home dental care is important in the long run of your pet’s overall health. Dentistry is connected to all facets of the pet’s life. If left unidentified, periodontal disease can affect other organs. The bacteria in the mouth get into the bloodstream and can wreak havoc on the heart, liver, and kidneys.


Article written by: Lindsey G

Lindsey also made a short demonstration video that showcases these products; view it here.