Plaque Removal and Prevention in Dogs and Cats
The “gold standard” for home care is daily brushing of your pet’s teeth using an abrasive toothpaste, as it is essential to mechanically remove plaque build-up.
Plaque cannot simply be rinsed off due to the attachment of the plaque pellicle to the surface of the tooth. The bacterial biofilm, food breakdown products and salivary proteins then become incorporated with this pellicle layer if not removed. The plaque then becomes mineralised to form calculus (commonly called tartar).
Early removal of plaque is relatively easily done in most dogs and cats with a finger-style brush. A veterinarian or vet nurse can show you how to do this correctly. A large majority of pets will resist opening their mouth in order to use a toothbrush or similar, as they think you are about to give them a tablet. However, they will often accept a finger inserted under lips and moved back and forth along the teeth and gums. Whilst cleaning the outside of your pet’s teeth can be done at home, you will not have a way to effectively brush the inside of the teeth and this will need to be done by your veterinarian.
There are a range of toothpastes and brushes available specifically for brushing your pet’s teeth; these can be purchased from your local vet. Never use human toothpaste (due to high fluoride levels), sodium bicarbonate, salt or other alternative tooth cleaning products, since your pet will most likely swallow the majority of whatever you place in its mouth.
Brushing must be done daily in order to achieve a satisfactory level of prevention. The process of generating plaque is well under way by 48 hours after cleaning, hence the need for continual plaque removal.
If you can brush your pet’s teeth daily, all other forms of plaque control become a bonus. As diet can play a large part in plaque build-up, abrasive diets and those with calculus reducing properties are excellent. On their own, diets cannot completely reduce plaque formation and attachment; the animal would have to alternate which teeth bit into the biscuits in order to clean them all. But, if the teeth are being brushed and your pet is regularly chewing on something, plaque control can be very effective. Chew toys and chew treats also fit into this category. Feeding your pet bones can also help reduce plaque attachment, but there are high risks of tooth fracture or obstructions. Consult your veterinarian for advice on the correct selection of appropriate bones for their pet.
If brushing is not an option, other forms of plaque removal are required to prevent a rapid build-up. Ideally, a combination of all of your available options would be best. When choosing suitable methods, it must be remembered that some of these options pose possible risks such as tooth fracture or obstruction. If you prefer a “natural” diet (this would mean feeding live prey to ensure all teeth were used), remember that feral dogs and cats also suffer the full range of dental diseases, with the exception of calculus above the gums, which is mostly cosmetic.
For pets with a history of chronic gingivitis and those who refuse to allow their teeth to be brushed (or if you do not have the time or cannot get your pet to cooperate), rinsing twice weekly with chlorhexidine is a valid alternative. Chlorhexidine has a long history of use for control of periodontal disease and has been validated scientifically multiple times. Hexarinse® is a soothing, palatable rinse containing chlorhexidine gluconate that is readily accepted by both cats and dogs. If you try rinsing with a freshly made 0.2% chlorhexidine you will most likely only be able to use it as a once off as the animal may not let you near its mouth after that. Chlorhexidine is very bitter but Hexarinse® has overcome this without affecting the effectiveness of the product. Contact your veterinarian for advice on a suitable rinse and how to administer it.
Water additive products should not be relied upon as the sole method of plaque prevention or removal, as there is not yet enough evidence supporting these products to conclusively show that they aid in the prevention or removal of plaque.
Written by Prof Gary Wilson of Advanced Animal Dentistry Pty Ltd