A Guide To Dental Care For Your Pet

February is Pet Dental Health Month

Regular dental cleanings at your vet are suggested for ongoing oral care for your pets, but at-home care can keep your pet healthy and happy in-between visits.



Brushing your pet’s teeth once a day is recommended as plaque builds up after only 48 hours of no dental care. However, not every owner is able to see this through.  To help you make this the most beneficial for everyone involved, consider these tips:

  • Start with a healthy, pain-free mouth. Young pets are a great place to start. By 6 months of age, all the adult teeth are in, and brushing can begin.
  • For adult animals, consult with your veterinary team before beginning any treatment program. Undiagnosed or painful dental disease conditions can lead to pain for the animal and a bad experience with brushing. Dental disease may need to be cared for first, and then a protocol can begin at home.
  • When you begin brushing for the first time, regardless of age, it is best to introduce the brushing slowly with positive reinforcements, such as healthy dental treats after brushing. If you would like assistance with the brushing process, you may schedule a Technician Appointment and one of our Techs would be happy to help show you the best practices.
  • Choose a proper toothbrush and toothpaste. Toothbrushes come in different sizes for different-sized pets. Flavored pet kinds of toothpaste serve two purposes. If the pet enjoys toothpaste, it makes brushing easier. Also, be sure to use toothpaste that is enzymatic. This allows the product to adhere to the teeth and continue working even after you are done brushing. We have several options available in our reception area, and we would be glad to help you select the dental products that will work best for you. Please Note: Do not use human toothpaste as it may be toxic for your pet.
  • To brush, place the toothbrush bristles at a 45-degree angle where the teeth and gums meet. The goal is for the bristles to reach under the gumline to clean the space around each tooth where infection and gingivitis begin.  A circular motion is a goal, but back-and-forth will work, too. Ideally, ten back-and-forth motions – covering 3-4 teeth at a time – should be completed before moving to the next location.  The area along the outside of the upper teeth is the most critical.

Dental Diet

Myth: Feeding a pet a dry kibble diet is better for the teeth than feeding them a canned diet!
Truth: Most dry pet foods crumble without much resistance so there is little or no abrasive action on the teeth.

Dental diets either use products to bind with the plaque to aid removal or are formulated to not crumble easily so plaque can be scraped away from the teeth during chewing. Ideally, a dental diet should be fed as the main calorie source. Many dental diets are higher in calories than regular dry food diets, so you would normally feed a smaller amount of a dental diet. Sometimes, we recommend mixing a dental diet with a regular diet, especially in our weight-conscious pets. Keep in mind that research has shown a measurable, but declining, benefit when the dental diet is reduced to 75%, 50%, or 25% of the total calorie intake.

For dental care, we typically recommend Hill’s T/D dental health diets. This recommendation is on a case-by-case basis and would be made in consideration of your pet’s overall health status, any disease-specific needs, your pet’s eating style, and your pet’s weight. Contact our office if you would like to try these products so we’re able to check our availability.



This is the gold standard for the inhibition of plaque in human dentistry. It is effective against most oral bacteria, most fungi, and even some viruses. To be effective, chlorhexidine must be in contact with the oral surfaces for at least 2 minutes. Once there, it persists in the mouth for up to 12 hours at antiseptic levels. This product is incorporated into several veterinary treatments and preventives for oral disease. We recommend the CET Hextra Chews. Contact our office if you would like to try this product so we’re able to check our availability.


Fluoride in human dentistry is used primarily to reduce the formation of cavities, which is not an issue in veterinary medicine. However, we do apply a fluoride treatment at the end of a dental cleaning to help control plaque, strengthen the enamel of the teeth, and desensitize the teeth. Although fluoride does have some antibacterial properties, it is not as effective as chlorhexidine. Also, since fluoride is not considered safe to ingest, it is not used as a home care component for pets.


This nutraceutical (nutritional supplement) has been shown to improve gingival/oral health in people with known heart conditions.  Although there are no veterinary studies to confirm this effect in the mouths of pets, we do recognize the medical health benefits of CoenzymeQ10 in supporting the health of animals with heart disease.

Other Treats

The Veterinary Oral Health Council (www.vohc.org) has a list of additional over-the-counter products that have been approved for controlling tartar and plaque build-up.  We also recommend the use of the CET product line because of their tartar and plaque control combined with their antibacterial properties.  Not all tartar-preventing products can prevent or kill bacteria, so consider this when choosing the best products for your pet.

Water Additives

These products contain chlorhexidine and safe levels of xylitol your pet can consume.  When added to regular drinking water, the antibacterial properties help to prevent oral disease.  While this is a safe product for your pet in small quantities, please contact your veterinarian if large quantities are ingested. Our specific recommendation is to try CET Aquadent.


As part of a comprehensive dental care plan, antibiotics can be used to reduce gingivitis and periodontitis both during and after dental evaluations and cleanings.  Occasionally, for some pets with underlying health conditions where a dental cleaning is not an option, pulse therapy with antibiotics may be recommended.  This consists of regular, dental-specific antibiotics being administered every 3 months, year-round, usually for life.  Even though this is certainly not as effective as an actual cleaning, this therapy may be the only realistic option for some pets and their owners.

Pain Management

For severe oral infections, oral surgery, fractured teeth, and some oral growths, pain medications are often incorporated to aid in patient comfort and speed the healing process.  Most prescription pain medications have the added benefit of reducing inflammation and swelling, as well.  This means faster healing and faster return to normal for your pet.

TVH Is Here To Help

When you schedule a Dental Checkup appointment, our staff will recommend a dental evaluation plan tailored to your pet’s individual oral health. We will also be able to check our current availability of dental care products and possibly send you home with some free samples of dental treats, pet toothpaste, and other free dental care resources.

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