Helpful Definitions: Plaque: The film that accumulates on the teeth throughout the day, even with diligent brushing. Colorless, composed of bacteria. Tartar (also known as calculus): Hardening of the bacterial film (plaque) on the surface of the tooth. Must be removed with special tools during the time of a dental cleaning. Can be partially broken down by certain compounds found in dental diet/treats and toothpaste. Gingivitis: Inflammation of the gums as a result of plaque and tartar accumulation near or under the gum line (where the tooth meets the gum). So…Last time, we talked about getting your pet’s teeth cleaned by your vet under general anesthesia as a way to treat any infection or inflammation that might be present. At that time, we also talked about devising an at-home veterinary oral care plan to help prevent the recurrence of inflammation, and its ensuing progression to periodontal disease. So what might this plan look like? First and foremost, brushing your pet’s teeth with a pet-specific toothpaste is by far and away the most effective means of preventing accumulation of tartar by controlling plaque at the gum line and below the gum surface. Certain dog and cat toothpastes contain a special compound to help reduce the amount of tartar on the tooth, which can help control further formation of plaque. Human toothpaste is not recommended as these products upset the stomachs of dogs and cats, and they can be toxic. The same is true of human mouth wash and other human oral hygiene products. Ideally, brushing your pet’s teeth at a frequency recommended by your veterinarian based on their degree of tartar and gingivitis is the very best way to keep their mouths as healthy as possible. Routine oral exams are the most effective way to formulate an oral care plan that works for you and your pet. Although brushing your pet’s teeth is the best way to prevent dental disease, adding in other tools, such as dental chews and dental treats provide additional benefit. There are many products on the market that claim to offer exceptional dental advantages. Unfortunately, many of these products are not effective, and so your veterinarian can help direct you toward those products which are known to work. Certain tartar control diets can decrease tartar build-up. These are often hard treats, which seem very large for the size of your dog or cat’s mouth. Some of these products also contain a special compound to help break down tartar to a certain degree, just as the toothpastes do. The large kibble size is designed to increase the amount of time your pet spends chewing, so the treat itself can help scrape some of the tartar away. This increased chewing time also maximizes the amount of time the special compound is in contact with the tooth, which aids in breaking down tartar and prevents subsequent tartar accumulation. There are also dental chews and rawhides that work in a similar fashion. Ask your veterinarian which treats and chews are the most beneficial and safe for your pet. You may have read about water additives available for at-home use, but it is not known how well these products work in dogs and cats. What we do know is that home tooth brushing, combined with veterinary formulated treats and chews make up the optimal at-home dental care plan, and can target every tooth in the mouth. But remember, even if you floss daily and brush your teeth religiously, you still have to go to the dentist to remove the stubborn tartar and make sure your teeth and gums remain healthy. The same is true for pets. The bottom line is that even with diligent at-home dental care, nothing can replace a thorough oral exam and dental cleaning by a vet. These at home measures help to keep your pet’s mouth even healthier! Please contact your veterinarian to discuss these options amore in depth, and to learn how your pet could benefit from routine dental care. Next time: How on Earth do you brush a dog or cat’s teeth?!?