Checking Fido's teeth

April 1, 2013
When conversing with a patient, answering an email from a reader, or taking questions from an audience, my motto has always been, "If the answer is unknown to me, I will admit it and search for an appropriate reply."


When conversing with a patient, answering an email from a reader, or taking questions from an audience, my motto has always been, "If the answer is unknown to me, I will admit it and search for an appropriate reply." The subject of pet health has been a common query recently. Spencer, my canine companion, has beautiful teeth -- though none of the credit is mine. I have to admit that our home is void of a doggy toothbrush. A significant amount of time is devoted to caring for Spencer and his age-related needs -- adding a toothbrush to the mix is asking quite a bit from both of us.

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Finding an unbiased pet oral health web site is not an easy task. Most are owned or sponsored by companies selling products and almost none offer any research for basing their claims. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) appears to be the most research-based in making recommendations for products and protocols related to pet oral health. The VOHC awards a seal to products meeting specific criteria in reducing plaque and tartar in dogs and cats. The steps required to apply for a seal are lengthy and explained in detail at

The VOHC site also has a section addressing periodontal disease in pets and does a good job explaining the cause, effect, and management of oral health for this population. While the VOHC awards seals for many products in the food and treat category, the only brush they recommend is an "ADA-compliant, soft bristle, flat head toothbrush." The home page and periodontal section have some disturbing photos of poor oral conditions in pets. Dental professionals rarely turn down a chance to view a gross picture of massive calculus build up.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a list of ten steps for dog oral health on their site. While the list is not supported by any cited sources, it appears verbatim on several veterinary sites devoted to pet oral health. The steps are logical and similar to human oral care recommendations, such as holding the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums and brushing tips that mimic the modified Bass technique.

Some veterinarians specialize in oral care, a fact unknown to me before this search. While most animal clinics provide services such as oral exams and cleanings, these specialists utilize radiographs, explorers, and probes to diagnose and then treat a wide range of pet dental issues. One specialist site,, provides oral care advice for many companion animals, including rabbits and rodents. I admit to spending a lot of time on this site browsing pictures of cavity preps and restorations and feeling guilty for my apathy toward brushing Spencer's teeth. The reading was reminiscent of junior year preventive dentistry class.

According to, some dogs are more prone to dental issues. Short and broad headed dog breeds such as pugs and boxers are more susceptible to periodontal disease because their flat faces do not allow for mechanical tooth cleaning from chewing. Smaller breeds and especially toy dog breeds are prone to crowded teeth and, therefore, display more dental health problems. Luckily for Spencer, dogs with longer jaws, such as Dobermans and collies, are less susceptible to canine periodontal disease and cavities.

There are actions other than brushing that help maintain oral health in pets. Providing appropriate chew toys that do not easily splinter or break into sharp pieces can control plaque buildup in pets. Feeding dry food and limiting table scraps is also beneficial for animal teeth and gums. Several sites recommend an oral rinse for pets to inhibit plaque and calculus formation, but I cannot visualize teaching Spencer to swish and spit.

Probiotics are proving very useful in animal oral health. While not a strictly science-based site, offers information on probiotics and the dental health of pets. Probiotics are used to regulate animal digestion and boost the immune system of humans, as well as animals, and ongoing research suggests enhancing beneficial oral bacteria plays a role in overall health as well. This web site recommends EvoraPet by Oragenics, a product my pets receive daily.

EvoraPet can be located online. The site does a good job describing the benefits of probiotics for pets and cites Dr. Jeffrey Hillman, DMD, PhD, as backing the product with 25 years of scientific research. The product is 100% natural and is stated to freshen breath along with cleaning and whitening pet teeth. I can attest to the fact the product is easy to use and neither of my pets seem to notice it sprinkled on their food. While I do not know if Spencer's teeth are whiter, providing him with probiotics does lessen my guilt from not providing him with a toothbrush.

All of the pet wellness sites I visited recommended checking your pet's teeth regularly. Knowing what is normal for your animal companion and looking for changes is one of the best prevention tools available. A call to my own veterinarian confirmed checking for plaque, calculus, and gingival inflammation is the first step in good pet oral health. So for now, we can keep the toothbrush on the shelf for Spencer until I notice the first sign that his annoying chewing habit isn't effective anymore. As for my cat, Huh, two personal failed attempts at check-ups have convinced me her oral check-ups are best left to Dr. Wilson. RDH

Websites for additional information


LORY LAUGHTER, RDH, BS, practices clinically in Napa, Calif. She is owner of Dental IQ, a business responsible for the Annual Napa Dental Experience. Lory combines her love for travel with speaking nationally on a variety of topics. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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