Dental Corner: Educate your clients about dental home care for their pets - Veterinary Medicine
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Dental Corner: Educate your clients about dental home care for their pets



Look for the VOHC seal

The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) provides an objective means of recognizing products that meet standards of effectiveness in controlling the accumulation of dental plaque and calculus in dogs and cats. The VOHC does not test products itself. Companies wishing to have a product reviewed submit a detailed report of the testing that has been performed using VOHC protocols and standards. If, after detailed review of the submission, the VOHC agrees that the product meets its standards, the product is awarded the VOHC seal. More information on the VOHC and the products that have earned the VOHC seal can be found at

Brush every day

Daily tooth brushing is the best thing you can recommend for pet owners to do at home to promote good oral hygiene.6 Brushing a pet's teeth once a week, or even every three days, is not enough. Daily tooth brushing is necessary because plaque bacteria can recolonize the tooth surface in 24 to 36 hours. Besides reducing the risk of periodontal disease, owners who brush their pets' teeth on a daily basis are more likely to identify other oral pathology (e.g. fractured teeth, dental resorptive lesions, oral tumors) that would go unnoticed without daily inspection of the oral cavity.

Begin by teaching owners how to brush their pets' teeth (see the client handout). The toothbrush should be soft-bristled; in my experience, a battery-powered toothbrush (Hartz) for dogs performs well, and most dogs don't object to the vibrations. Another appropriate choice is a soft-bristled children's toothbrush. The traditional long-handled and double-ended pet toothbrush can be cumbersome for small breeds but is appropriate for large and dolichocephalic breeds. Although any method of mechanical plaque removal is better than nothing, finger brushes have an ineffective design and are less beneficial than traditional toothbrushes.

Toothpaste is simply a flavoring to enhance acceptance of the toothbrush. Studies in people show that the use of dentifrice does not contribute to the instant mechanical plaque removal during manual tooth brushing.7 The mechanical action provided by the use of a toothbrush is the main factor in the plaque-removing process. There have been various claims of benefit from enzyme systems in some veterinary toothpastes, but research has yet to validate these claims. Always discourage the use of human toothpaste in pets because it contains fluoride, which should not be swallowed.

Feed a dental diet

Several commercial diets have been shown to better promote periodontal health compared with regular dry food diets. Studies document a significant reduction in the plaque, calculus, and gingivitis index for the foods tested.8 The mechanism of action for these dental foods is based on either enhanced textural characteristics of the kibble to mechanically cleanse the teeth (e.g. Prescription Diet t/d—Hill's; Science Diet Oral Care—Hill's; Purina Veterinary Diets DH—Nestlé Purina; and Friskies Feline Dental Diet—Friskies Petcare) or chemical coating of the food with polyphosphate (e.g. Iams Dental Defense—Iams and Eukanuba Adult Maintenance Diet for Dogs—Iams). The polyphosphate coating binds and chelates minerals in the saliva to make them unavailable for calculus development. Therefore, the diets that use enhanced textural characteristics can reduce plaque as well as calculus, whereas the chemical-coated diets are effective only against calculus. One dental diet, Dental DD (Royal Canin), combines the mechanical and chemical properties of textural enhancement with polyphosphate coating. With the high incidence of periodontal disease in dogs and cats, a diet that promotes good oral health is an excellent choice in most pets.


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