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How to keep your pet’s teeth healthy

Written by Napo HQ
Reviewed by Dr Louisa Lane
22nd Apr 2022
5 mins read
87% of dogs and 70% of cats suffer from dental disease at some point, and treatment without insurance can be expensive. Preventative dental care is therefore very important.
Taking your pet for annual dental checkups will help you stay on top of their oral hygiene. You should also brush their teeth at least twice a week. Dental chews can help, but should be given in moderation. A healthy, low-sugar diet will also help your pet's teeth and gums to stay healthy and strong. 
Looking after your pet's teeth is vital to prevent dental disease, which is the most common infectious disease in dogs and cats, affecting 87% of adult dogs and 70% of cats. Dental disease is painful and requires veterinary treatment to resolve.
If left untreated, dental disease can progress to severe mouth pain, ulcers on the gums, tooth loss, and it can even impact the health of your pet's vital organs such as the heart.
As explained by veterinarian Dr Louisa Lane, “Dental disease is extremely common in our pets and it really affects their quality of life. We must remember that eating is a survival mechanism; so having an appetite and eating does not mean your pet isn’t in pain. As animal advocates, we have to manage dental disease earlier as well as learning ways to prevent it.”
Although it might seem inevitable, there are a lot of things owners can do to keep their pet's teeth healthy in order to prevent dental disease and avoid stressful and costly dental procedures such as tooth extractions.

How can I keep my pet's teeth clean and healthy?

1. Take your pet for regular dental checkups

We humans don’t think twice about going to the dentist for routine check-ups, yet few of us take our dog or cats to one. Your vet can examine your pet's teeth and look for early signs of problems like plaque, tartar, tooth fractures, and dental disease at every single visit. 
When these problems are caught early, they can be treated before things get worse. Sometimes, they can even be reversed.
But if your pet goes untreated, their dental problems will only get worse. Plaque will build up and cause nasty infection and inflammation of the gum (which is reversible with veterinary treatment). If untreated, this infection worsens over time causing mouth pain, tooth decay and tooth loss. 
The longer dental disease is left, the worse the problem becomes and the more invasive and expensive treatment will be to fix it.
As well as spotting problems early, dental check-ups are also important if you want to make a claim for dental treatments with insurers like Napo. This is because your pet will need to have an annual dental check-up in the 12 months before your claim.

2. Professional teeth cleaning

As well as checking your dog or cat's teeth, your vet can carry out professional teeth cleaning. This is the only effective and safe way to assess your pet’s teeth and remove calculus safely. 
This should not be performed by anyone other than a vet or veterinary nurse under guidance from a veterinarian.  Scaling treatments at pet shops or groomers are absolutely not recommended.
After a professional clean your pet's teeth will be as good as new, and you can easily maintain their cleanliness and health at home with daily brushing. 
But professional cleaning can be expensive, and while prices vary you can expect to pay around £300 for the procedure.
Although professional teeth cleaning will remove all plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth, it can’t prevent future buildups. Within hours of your pet's teeth being cleaned, bacteria will colonise their mouth again and plaque will reform, starting the progression towards dental disease all over again. That’s why it’s important to maintain your pet's dental hygiene at home because it will disrupt the buildup of bacteria and plaque and help to prevent dental disease.

How to keep your pet's teeth healthy at home

1. Brush their teeth

We humans know how important it is to brush our teeth every day to keep them healthy, yet only 29% of owners think brushing their pet’s teeth is important for their health.
Brushing your pet's teeth every day is the gold standard for keeping their teeth healthy. It significantly reduces plaque and calculus, can reverse gingivitis, and it’s the single most effective way to prevent dental disease at home.
Even brushing your pet's teeth a few times a week can still help to reduce plaque buildup, slowing the progression of dental disease. You can combine frequent brushing with other methods such as specific chews, specially formulated foods, or water additives in order to help keep their teeth clean and healthy.
Remember to always use pet-safe toothpaste to clean your pet's teeth, preferably an enzymatic one. Never use human toothpaste which contains fluoride and is not safe for dogs or cats. It's also a good idea to get your pet very used to having their teeth cleaned when they're young! 

2. Using dental chews and treats

Daily dental chews or dental treats aren’t quite as effective as brushing, but they have been shown to help reduce plaque and calculus buildup and slow the progression of dental disease, helping to keep your pet's teeth healthy. You should also use VOHC approved products wherever possible.
The downside to dental chews is that they are calorie-dense, and eating a chew every day could contribute to obesity if owners don’t adjust their pet's calorie intake accordingly.
It’s important to weigh up the pros and cons of any chews to assess whether your pet is likely to see the benefit on their teeth, versus the problems on their waist.

3. Chew toys

Many of the toys your dog or cat plays with could help to keep their teeth clean. Rope toys, kong toys, and rubber chew toys can all encourage your dog to chew and mechanically clean your dog’s teeth by scraping plaque off as they gnaw. 
Some toys for both cats and dogs are even shaped with bumps and bristles to help clean the nooks and crannies of their teeth. Playing with these toys can help to keep teeth healthy, whilst entertaining your pet and satisfying their natural desire to play and chew. (But it’s important to remember it isn’t as good as brushing.)

4. Water additives and powder supplements

Water additives and powder supplements can also help to keep your pet's breath fresh and their teeth healthy. The safest and most-effective products are those that are VOHC approved.
Both of these products work by chemically cleaning your pet's teeth. The ingredients combine with their saliva, helping to break up the bacteria and plaque that forms on their teeth.
Powders are simply sprinkled on your dog’s food, while water additives act like drinkable mouthwash and clean your dog’s teeth every time they take a drink. 
Never ever use human mouthwash on your pet though, because it is toxic to both cats and dogs.

Foods to avoid if you want to keep your pet's teeth healthy

Just like with humans, you should avoid sugary foods in your pet's diet which will encourage bacteria to build up.
You can also feed your dog or cat a specially formulated dental diet that can help to reduce plaque.
It’s sometimes said that dry food can provide more abrasion on teeth to scrape plaque away, but it doesn’t stop dental disease. After all, if dry food alone did help to keep teeth healthy then 9/10 dogs wouldn’t be suffering from dental disease.
The biggest impact of food on tooth health is making sure your pet gets enough nutrients to grow healthy teeth and maintain a strong immune system. Several vitamin and mineral deficiencies have been linked with gingivitis - which leads to periodontal disease - so making sure your pet eats a complete diet is crucial to keep their teeth and whole body healthy.

What support is available to cover the cost of my pet's dental treatment?

The cost of dental treatments for dogs and cats can be high. For example, a scale and polish can cost around £300, and if your pet requires dental extractions this can equate to well over £600. These procedures require a general anaesthetic to ensure they are carried out correctly and safely, which is why It is not advised to seek a dental procedure outside of a veterinary practice.
Given how common dental disease is, most owners will have to pay for at least one dental procedure in their pet's lifetime, if not several. Yet some pet insurers don’t cover anything dental, leaving owners out of pocket. Luckily, Napo does offer pet insurance with dental cover to help cover the cost of your pet's dental treatment.

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