Why Brush Your Pet's Teeth?

 Pets Have Teeth Too!

Brushing your pet's teeth is something I really believe in - I can usually tell whether an owner brushes their pet's teeth regularly - it makes that much of a difference. And you can bet your pet feels the difference (imagine not brushing your teeth for a few days ... a few weeks ... a few years ... you get the idea). 

What a Healthy and Unhealthy Mouth Looks Like

The difference between healthy and unhealthy teeth and gums is easy to spot! This is something you can do at home easily. Just "flip a lip" and have a look!

Healthy Teeth and Gums

Healthy gums are pale pink, nearly flush with the teeth (they don't protrude out from the teeth) and aren't painful when touched. Healthy teeth are a bright white, solidly rooted and not cracked, chipped or broken.

Note: Some pets have areas of pigment on their gums (often black vs. pale pink); this is not a problem 😅

Unhealthy Teeth and Gums

Unhealthy gums are dark pink to red and can be swollen. They may be painful to the touch. Unhealthy gums can have deep gingival pockets under the gumline (where the tooth roots are). These pockets are created by a build-up of tartar acting as a wedge and prying the gums away from the tooth roots. 

Unhealthy gums are often painful (although many dogs don't show a typical pain reaction when their gums are touched, so it can be hard to appreciate that they are in pain). Unhealthy teeth are usually covered in beige to brown tartar and can be sometimes be loose or broken.

Healthy and unhealthy gums and teeth

Brushing is Easy (Really)

The good news is that brushing your pet's teeth is easier than you think :) 

Dogs (and, yes, cats - see below...) are clever: They put most of their plaque and tartar on the outside of their teeth, especially along the inside of their cheeks. That means that we only really need to brush the outside of their teeth, which makes life really simple, 'cause we don't need to open their mouths and jam a toothbrush in (yay!).

Cat smiling
... Cats?

OK, it's easy in dogs. I recommend trying to brush your cat's teeth, but if you can't, don't sweat it. I can't brush my cat's teeth either...


Toothbrush kitUsing a toothbrush or finger brush (which I find easier on larger dogs) with pet toothpaste (available at the clinic or even the pet store; just don't use human toothpaste), simply brush the outside of the upper and lower teeth inside each cheek.

It Takes 10 Seconds

I break this into four "quadrants": Upper right, lower right, upper left and lower left. I brush each one for a few seconds. You did the math right: You can effectively brush your pet's teeth in 10 to 20 seconds. This is not a huge time commitment. With the prep and clean up of the toothbrush, maybe put aside 1 minute each day. That's it. Seriously.

But Why Should I?

Other than the fact that it literally takes only a minute, there are a number of great reasons to brush your pet's teeth:
  • Healthier pain-free mouth
  • Reduced vet bills
  • Longer life
  • Better breath!!
These are pretty good reasons, eh? Let's break them down.

Healthier Pain-Free Mouth

Happy smiling dog
Unhealthy teeth hurt. Unfortunately for us, pets are really good at hiding oral pain. I regularly have owners tell me, "she doesn't have any pain in her mouth. She eats great!". After we do a veterinary dental cleaning, though, we often hear, "she is so much happier and eating better. I had no idea!"

I'm not trying to push veterinary dental procedures - I'd much rather your pet had healthy teeth throughout their lives - however I am trying to emphasize what a difference a healthy mouth makes. Pets with bad teeth hurt.

Regular brushing of your pet's teeth can help keep your pet's mouth healthier and pain-free.

Reduced Vet Bills

Veterinary dental cleaning is expensive. There's simply no sugar-coating it. It's expensive because, unlike with people, we have to have pets under full anesthesia just like they were getting surgery (unless you're like me - if the dentist is coming at me with a drill, I better be knocked out! But I digress). The reason for this is, that to be truly helpful, we must get the tartar in the area under the gumline (along the tooth roots), which we just cannot do when a pet is awake. This also means that it is highly recommended to perform pre-anesthetic bloodwork to help ensure the safety of your pet prior to their anesthesia. Really important, but it adds to the expense.

An Aside About "Awake Dentistry"

Some clinics and groomers may offer "awake" or "non-anesthesia" dentistry. This involves scaling the visible tartar off teeth in an awake pet. The end result looks great, but it doesn't really help as it doesn't get the tartar under the gumline, which is the tartar causing the inflammation and gingivitis that leads to the health issues discussed below (pain, bacterial showers, bone and tooth loss, etc.). Awake dentistry makes us as owners feel better, but it doesn't make our pets feel better.

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Blog

So there is no getting around it: Veterinary dental cleanings are expensive. The solution is to simply avoid them! By brushing your pet's teeth, you will dramatically decrease the number of veterinary dental cleanings your pet requires over it's lifetime. Simple, right?

Longer Life

Bad teeth are ... well ... bad: Not only do they stress the immune system, they can lead to diseases of several internal organs, most notably the heart and kidneys. There is growing evidence that an unhealthy mouth has an effect on the whole body. By stressing the immune system, there is the likelihood that bad teeth exacerbate other diseases, and we also know bad teeth can directly lead to life-threatening infections of the internal organs.

Bacterial Showers

The inflammation and gingivitis that develop as a result of tartar building up on the teeth (tartar is what plaque becomes when it isn't removed by brushing. It's basically tooth concrete and can't be brushed off. This is why I recommend brushing every day: It prevents plaque from hardening into tartar).

Gingivitis opens pockets under the gum, which weakens the bone holding the tooth, leading to deeper pockets which further weakens the bone in a vicious cycle. The inflammation of gingivitis also makes the gums permeable to bacteria. This is especially true when your pet eats: The forces of eating open microscopic holes in the inflamed gums, allowing bacteria to enter the bloodstream. This is called a bacterial shower. It's not good...

Less Bacteria in Blood = Longer Life

It's a self-evident equation. Brushing your pet's teeth dramatically reduces the severity of bacterial showers from your pet's mouth, giving your pet's immune system a (well deserved!) break and keeping their internal organs healthier, which can help them to live longer, healthier lives. A good trade-off for a minute per day!

Better Breath!!

Yes, brushing your pet's teeth also means their breath smells way better. This, alone, makes it worth it.

Start Fresh

Happy smiling dog

A quick note about starting fresh: If your pet already has a bad mouth, brushing may be painful. If you can gently brush, it will always help, however it may be too painful for your pet and, if there's a lot of tartar already, no amount of brushing will remove it. In these cases, it's best to get a veterinary dental cleaning to start fresh.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that there's no reason not to brush your pet's teeth *. Start today!

* Ahem. This is a case of do as I say, not as I do: I am terrible at remembering to brush my dog's teeth, so I understand - there's no judgement here - just try your best

Learn More

To learn more:

Brushing Your Pet's Teeth Animal Care Clinics Tutorial

With Care, Dr. Hans Christoffersen


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