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How to take care of your pup’s teeth
Every day, Lenin Villamizar-Martinez makes sure that he and his dog, Lola, get plenty of exercise and do one more thing: brush their teeth.
"It's been scientifically demonstrated that brushing dogs' and cats' teeth daily is the best practice," said Villamizar-Martinez, an assistant professor of dentistry and oral surgery at North Carolina State University. "Just like in humans, when you go every morning and brush your teeth, you remove dental plaque."
Dental plaque can form quickly, typically in 24 hours. It hardens into tartar in about three days, which is "why daily home care to remove plaque is critical," says dental veterinarian Brook A. Niemiec, a co-author of the 2020 World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) Global Dental Guidelines.
Left unchecked, tartar can cause gum disease and lead to other health problems in cats and dogs. By their first birthday, about 90 percent of all dogs have some gum disease, and about 70 percent of cats have it by the time they turn 3, according to studies cited in the 2020 WSAVA Guidelines.
Dental veterinarians recommend introducing daily tooth brushing in the first few months of life. Always be gentle — never force a pet to brush their teeth — and make it a game, says Villamizar-Martinez.
His dog, Lola, was 5 when he adopted her. She already had some dental problems. So first, he used gauze moistened with tap water to rub her teeth and gums daily for two to three weeks. Next, he let her sniff the dog toothpaste. Then he slowly introduced a toothbrush over a couple of weeks. Now, he says, she loves having her teeth brushed every morning.
There are many types of pet toothbrushes, but Jennifer Tjepkema, a veterinary dentist at the Animal Dental Center in Annapolis, Md., recommends just using a soft-bristle children's toothbrush for pets. Every three months, she lets her kids choose new toothbrushes for themselves and their dogs, "which usually have superheroes on them," she says. Chews, toys and supplements can also help thwart dental problems.