Oral Health For Your Pet
Oral health

February 2012
Dr Gerhard Steenkamp


Oral Health For Your Pet 2012-02 (1)Oral health for our pets has been a neglected field of veterinary science for too long. As veterinarians we often hear how Fido is always chewing on bones, or has his favourite stick which gets thrown for him. Surely chewing on these hard objects should keep teeth clean. The sad truth is that you can not be further from the truth. In this short communication I would like to point out who should take control of your pet’s oral health and what each should do.


Pet owners

You are the reason why there is a ball of fluff that arrives at your house on a particular day. It doesn’t matter if it is a gift for mom, dad, kids or grand kids, the air of excitement in the air when a new puppy arrives is very special. You love pets and that is why you have them and would like to look after them.

Oral Health For Your Pet 2012-02 (2)Toothbrushing is the best method of keeping teeth clean for humans AND for dogs. Research have shown that feeding dogs various consistencies of food can not give the same cleaning power and long-term oral hygiene that brushing daily can do. Plaque, the bacteria containing substance you brush from your teeth daily, builds up within hours on your dog/cats’ teeth. Brushing their teeth weekly/monthly/annually is not sufficient to keep the mouths healthy. If you can brush your pets teeth weekly/monthly with not much fuss, they will also tolerate it daily.

Speak to your veterinarian about the correct toothbrush for your pet, but most often any medium stiffness toothbrush that will work on human teeth will work on theirs. Do not use your old toothbrush that cannot clean your teeth anymore, as it will also not work on their teeth.

The veterinary team

Veterinary nurses/technicians

These individuals are an indispensible part of the veterinary team and usually a wealth of information regarding practical ideas of how to work with your pets. Certain practices will allow you to make appointments with the nurse, and they will usually be most helpful to show you what to look for and even show you how to brush the teeth. They can also assist you with purchasing the best toothbrush / toothpaste for your pet. In practice we often see that clients are far more at ease when they are dealing with a veterinary nurse, and to us this is comforting as we know, you as the client gets the best advise from our team.

Veterinary nurses are trained to clean your dog/cats teeth with specialised equipment after your veterinarian has anesthetised your pet. They very often are also the people you deal with when collecting your pet later on, and this is ideal since they can explain to you exactly what transpired and how good/bad the teeth really were.


Oral Health For Your Pet 2012-02 (3)As veterinarians we are the guardians of your pets health. In other words, when you bring your pet to us with a problem (like infection around the teeth) it is our responsibility to make sure there is not anything else wrong with your pet, apart from just that tooth. In dogs older that about 7 or 8 years of age, for instance, we will advise you to have your pets blood tested for various enzymes and also do blood counts. This enables us to make sure that these patients that are nearing their middle ages, will not experience any problems with the breaking down of our anaesthetic drugs as well as passing them through the urine. Another reason to do this, is to make sure there are not any other, more sinister diseases lurking in your pets body. Once we are satisfied with your pets health, veterinarians will anaesthetise the animal and after the teeth have all been cleaned, assess the health of each tooth. In dogs it is literally like there are 42 patients in the mouth. Each one is assessed according to certain criteria in order to determine if it is still viable and/or functional. Depending on the outcome of this assessment it may well be that teeth needs to be extracted. We do not enjoy extracting teeth, one of my lecturers once said “To a dentist, extracting a tooth is admitting defeat!”. However, it is better for your pet to be pain free than having an offending tooth in its mouth.

Lastly, we can also advise you on your pets diet. There are wonderful foods, chews and toys available these days that can assist you in the quest for oral hygiene for your dog or cat. This should however be balanced with the overall needs your individual pet might have.

Until next time, happy brushing!
Dr. Gerhard Steenkamp


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