The Magic of Brushing for Oral Care


Dr Ankur Narad
Oral hygiene is an integral part of overall wellness of your pets. But often times it is overlooked. For the 101st issue we help you understand how important oral care is for your pets and brushing plays a pivotal role in it. –by Dr Ankur Narad and Dr Supriya Shukla

The patient’s oral exam is intended to determine if there is any presence of disease and if so, the type, extent, and severity. Always consider signs and symptoms, medical history, medications, and behavior during the process. The key to successful home care is pet parent’s awareness. The veterinarian needs to help them understand the causes, effects, and means of prevention.

What is plaque and how can it be prevented?
Plaque is a biofilm composed of bacteria, saliva, and food that forms on teeth shortly after a professional cleaning or brushing. The effects of plaque are halitosis, discomfort, and pain that can lead to chronic infection resulting in tooth loss. Other effects can be on the systemic level causing renal and cardiac problems. Prevention is now easier than ever before with the myriad of effective treatment methods and products.

Helping the pet parent understand their responsibility in plaque control and prevention of periodontal disease will often help them perform good home care. This education should begin at a very young age so that the pet and the pet parent can learn together and work in unison. Vet’s role is to help by monitoring progress and reinforcing the importance of consistent home care. It is important to know that home care cannot be matched to professional vet care.

Be open while discussing things with your vet. Whether it is a product, some lifestyle changes that you think can be helpful, or diet modifications. When educating pet parents vets should have demonstration materials such as models, a demonstration dog or cat, handouts, and videos explaining the different methods of home care that are available.

Active & Passive home care – Two pillars of oral care in pets

Home care is broken into two different types: active and passive.

• Active home care is brushing, oral rinsing, or applying of barrier sealants.

• Passive home care is using diets, treats, chews, water additives, and dental sealants.

The magic of brushing
Brushing is considered the gold standard of home care. There are times when this cannot be accomplished regularly due to your pet being fussy or sometimes pet parent’s being lazy to follow a regular brushing schedule. Make sure you don’t ignore your pet’s oral hygiene.

Daily brushing is the best method for plaque control. Brushing every other day is also considered beneficial but anything greater than that is not effective in plaque, calculus, or gingivitis control.

Remember to start slowly and early in life. Always use a soft-bristled toothbrush and pet toothpaste for greater safety.

There are many different types of toothbrushes available. These include plastic finger brushes, smaller feline brushes, and dual-ended brushes. Finger brushes are a great tool for beginners; however, they are not ideal for long-term use. They are not as abrasive as a bristled brush and expose the owner to being bitten. Pet toothpastes have enzymatic properties that inhibit plaque formation, but more importantly, they are flavored so your pet will accept it.

Because pets tend to swallow toothpaste, don’t use human toothpaste as it may cause gastrointestinal problems. It is important to emphasize that the mechanical action of brushing helps control plaque.

Patience always pays!
Be patient; it can take weeks to months to be able to completely get your pet used to the brushing routine. Start slowly and be gentle. It is helpful to place the pet up on a couch, chair, or counter for smaller breeds. This puts them at your level and gives you more control of the situation.

Create a daily pattern for you and the pet. Start giving the toothpaste at the same time and place and by the same person every day. This causes the pet to anticipate the toothpaste as a treat. Soon enough they will be looking forward to their treat. While giving them the toothpaste, touch the face and muzzle. Begin lifting the lips and rubbing the gums and teeth. This will begin to desensitise them. It is not necessary to force open the mouth. You can then start to place the toothpaste on the brush and allow them to lick. Introduce the brush, starting in the front of the mouth at the incisors and canines. With gradual acceptance, increase the number of the teeth advancing farther back in the mouth to the premolars then the molars. It is important to remember that you’ll have to change brushing angle to accommodate all teeth.

Sometimes placing a toy in the mouth helps to accomplish this. Move the brush in a circular or side-to-side motion at a 45 degree angle to the tooth surface. A complete brushing will last about 2 minutes or about 30 seconds per quadrant.

If brushing is not an option, then you can use oral rinses for your pets. Another option is a barrier sealant application once a week. This may be more appealing to pet parents who will not commit to brushing but want to do something. All of these active methods of home care are beneficial for your pet when done regularly.

Pet parents find passive forms of home care easier to implement. Dental diets are a common method of passive care.

Chemical and mechanical diet formulations for your furry friends
There are two diet formulations – chemical and mechanical. They are also categorised based on whether they work against plaque, calculus, or both.

Chemical-based diets are often coated with sodium hexametaphosphate (SHMP). SMHP is a chelating agent that binds with calcium in the saliva, aiding in the prevention of calculus formation. Diets that contain SMHP only work to prevent calculus and not plaque. However, by preventing calculus formation they are preventing larger surface areas for plaque to form on.

Mechanical diets are fiber-based diets that are designed to maximise the food contact time on the tooth surface while the patient chews. This shredding activity over the tooth surface actively disrupts plaque formation. Some diets have combined the two for maximum benefits. Biscuit-type treats work in a similar manner as diets do. They are often coated with SHMP and help control calculus but not plaque. Chews are designed to mechanically control plaque and calculus by abrasion as the pet bites down on it. Rawhide chews are shown to help reduce plaque and calculus as well as promote gingival health. It is important to differentiate between rawhide strips and pressed rawhide bones. These larger rawhides are much harder and place the pet at risk for dental fractures and possible foreign body. Some rawhide strips are also coated with SMHP to have additional calculus reduction.

‘Chew’ing the right toys
Educating pet parents about proper chew toys is also important. Although chew toys are not proven to have significant effect on plaque and calculus, they are widely used. Chew toys are designed to be safe for chewing without causing fractures. When choosing chew toys, it is important to consider the safety. See if it indents with your nail, softens with saliva, and is bendable. If the pet is not chewing the toy as it was meant to be, then it is also not considered to be safe.

(Dr Ankur Narad is from RGCN Pet Clinic, Bhopal and Dr Supriya Shukla is Professor at Veterinary Pathology Veterinary College, Mhow)