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Brush up on your pet’s teeth

Living

ORAL HYGIENE Dogs and cats need their teeth cleaned routinely to avoid dental disease and pain.

Ask the Vet
Esther Van Luipen

We brush our teeth at least twice a day and we go to the dentist once or twice a year for a check-up. Isn’t it strange that most people don’t ever look in the mouths of their dogs or cats, let alone bring them to the vet for a check-up of the teeth? Dogs and cats need dental hygiene just like we do.
In a normal mouth, the teeth should be clean, white and shiny and the gums should be lovely pink and attach smoothly to the tooth. There should be no redness on the rim of the gums.
When plaque is not brushed away, it mineralises into tartar (also called calculus). Tartar is solid like a stone and needs to be professionally removed by a dental hygienist or vet. When tartar builds up and creeps under the gums, where it causes inflammation and periodontal disease, and ultimately loose or missing teeth.
Worse, bacteria from the plaque can get into the blood stream and settle somewhere else in the body, like the liver, kidneys and heart valves. So it is really important to maintain oral health in your pet.
Fortunately there is a lot you can do to help your pet to keep its mouth healthy. You may laugh about this, but the best thing is to brush your pets’ teeth. I know this is not for everybody, because some animals just won’t cooperate, but when you start right when they are young it is easier to train your pet to cooperate when you lift the lip and brush their teeth.
Start off by lifting your pet’s lip and make a brushing movement with your finger over the teeth and gums. When your pet accepts this you can move on to using  a brush.
Make circular movements over the outside of the teeth (no need to brush the inside of the teeth). Toothpaste is not totally necessary, but it might help because it tastes nice. Whatever you do, don’t use human tooth paste because animals don’t like the peppermint taste. In vet clinics you can buy toothpaste especially catered for pets with a seafood or chicken flavour.
If your pet has tartar already this will need to be removed by your vet. This is not a cosmetic procedure that can be done by a groomer, as it’s not possible to clean teeth under the gum line without a general anaesthetic.  
There’s a great website where you can assess your pet’s dental health. Visit www.evds.org and go to ‘pet dental scoring’. But of course your vet will always be happy to have a look at your pet’s teeth for you.

> Esther van Luipen is a veterinary surgeon in Claremorris Small Animal Practice. She can be contacted at 094 9373955 or at living@mayonews.ie.

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