What every pet owner should know about their cat's or dog's teeth  

Daily tooth-brushing is as important for the gum-health and for maintaining clean teeth for our four-footed furry friends as it is for us. Most dogs and cats can be trained to tolerate tooth-brushing with a patient and gentle approach. In fact, many pets love the taste of flavoured pet toothpaste, and will look forward to having their teeth brushed.

Frequent Questions and Answers 
Can I use normal toothpaste for humans? - No, most toothpastes for humans contain ingredients that can be harmful if swallowed. For example the foaming agent could cause a dog to get an upset tummy. And the fluoride content could build up to harmful levels over time.

My dog gets a chew stick every day. Do I still have to brush? - Yes, the teeth still have to be brushed daily. No doubt, the chew stick is helpful, especially if it is  designed to help clean dog's teeth, however it does not replace daily tooth brushing. I compare it to the situation in people: If we chew a carrot, or chewing gum, it will help to clean teeth and gums to a degree. But our dentist would never recommend to give up tooth brushing because of that!

Can I give my dog a real bone to help clean his teeth? - This is not recommendable: Real bones fracture teeth. Perhaps not each and every time, but I have seen too many cases where dogs destroyed their beautiful big strong chewing teeth in the back of their mouths while chewing on bones. Don't risk it! And it's the same risk with any chew object that is of very tough material, such as sticks, stones, toys made of hard nylon material. If you can't bend it, don't use it! (With the exception of edible chews, which start out very hard but soon soften once they are moistened during the chewing process: This reduces the risk of tooth fracture greatly, but not to zero. I have seen a small Pug once with a tooth fracture after chewing a raw-hide chew, but it had particularly delicate teeth.)

I have heard tennis balls can be bad for dog's teeth. Is that true? - Yes, it is a little known fact that tennis balls are extremely abrasive. In addition to the abrasiveness of the material itself, the ball picks up sand when used outdoors, and then it is as though the dog chews on sandpaper! I can spot dogs that chew tennis balls within seconds of looking in their mouth: They have lost the tips of their canine teeth through gradual abrasion. Severe cases have their teeth worn down to the gum-level. An additional risk with tennis balls is rare but fatal: They can split down the middle during use, and there have been sad cases of sudden death when a dog tried catching the (broken) ball mid-air, and the split ball went straight onto their throat and caused acute airway obstruction like a suction-cup. There are much safer types of balls and retrieval toys available at pet stores, such as solid rubber balls and Kong-type toys.

How early should I train my puppy / my kitten to have his or her teeth brushed? - Puppies and kittens have deciduous teeth ('mllk teeth') which get replaced by permanent or 'adult' teeth around the age of 4.5 - 6 months. While the 'milk teeth' are not staying in the mouth long enough to accumulate any significant plaque or tartar, it is important to start the training process as soon as you get your puppy or kitten, so that they are already used to the procedure by the time they have their adult teeth. Because puppies and kittens can be very energetic and very wriggly, I recommend starting with the following step-by-step process: First, get them used to one of your finger tips lifting a lip and touching the gums. Put a little pet toothpaste on you finger and place it on their gum. Use gentle talking  and gentle stroking throughout. Do this once daily in a non-stressful way. They will soon be used to this, and then it is time to move on to a 'finger brush', which is a training device. By the time they are 6 months old, it is time to progress to a proper tooth brush (I recommend soft bristles. G.U.M. Baby brush for cats and toy-breed dogs, and kid's brush or adult brush for larger dogs.)