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Improving Your Pets Oral Health

Understanding Products and Limitations


While every patient can benefit from a good oral health homecare routine, not all family situations permit the execution of these recommendations. Having an arsenal of different methods to disrupt plaque and prevent tartar and periodontal disease are essential to custom-tailor a dental homecare regimen to clients.

Daily brushing is the gold standard in veterinary medicine. This is because our pets rarely get cavities, so brushing once daily is sufficient to prevent periodontal disease. Gradually acclimating the pet to accept the toothbrush, when associated with positive daily "reward" improves compliance on behalf of the pet and the owner. I recommend brushing once daily before feeding. Human toothpaste should not be used since the amount of fluoride contained in these products is not meant to be swallowed and may cause fluorosis (fluoride precipitates) in the kidneys. One study involving the use of veterinary toothpaste versus just water on the toothbrush demonstrated no difference in the amount of plaque and tartar accumulation. Veterinary toothpaste tastes good to dogs and cats and serves more as a reward.

Regarding food, in most situations dry food results in less plaque and tartar accumulation. Veterinary prescription diets like Iams Dental and Royal Canin incorporate technology which results in the fiber within the food to be orientated in a manner that reduces the number of ways the food breaks when chewed. Eukanuba adult maintenance and Iams chunk for dental defense diet for dogs. These are diets that contain polyphosphates. Polyphosphates are responsible for binding calcium found in saliva. When the salivary calcium is rendered unavailable to plaque, the process of plaque mineralization slows. In households where daily brushing can't take place, a dental-specific diet is typically a good second choice. Doing both brushing and providing dental diets is the most beneficial.

No one polices the marketing claims found on the labels of veterinary treats and toys. Careful selection of appropriate treats and toys that are not so hard that they fracture teeth is important. The muscles of mastication are capable of generating more force than teeth can withstand. A great rule of thumb to prevent purchasing toys that may be too hard is: "If you can whack yourself on the knee with it and it hurts, then it is too hard for your pet to chew on!"

The use of water additives and oral rinses should be used carefully and sparingly in veterinary oral health management. An ingredient in some water additives includes xylitol, which despite having antibacterial properties, is very toxic and should never be used in pets as it puts canine patients at great risks of xylitol toxicity. Oral rinses typically contain chlorhexidine or an ascorbic acid which both functionally serve to have antibacterial properties. The ultimate problem with rinses and water additives, even when used properly, is that they do not penetrate into the area we are interested in treating. Penetration into the area below the gum line is extremely limited. These products are better used based on desired treatment of surfaces where these products can have sufficient contact time. Rinses and water additives will only affect surface bacteria. Studies in people show that a person's body is able to control surface bacteria until the bacteria reach a certain level, at which point gingivitis and bone weakening begins.

With a large variety of products on the market, it can be overwhelming when trying to decide which products really work. Brushing is unequivocally the most important component to good oral health in humans. Since no one oversees the label claims of veterinary products, the Veterinary Oral Health Council has developed a system for the evaluation of products similar to the fundamentals of a similar system used by the FDA. We urge you to visit www.vohc.org for information on products that have demonstrated, using sound scientific procedures, that the products are safe and effective.

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