Dental Disease

Pete Wedderburn
16th December 2019 - 3 min read

The teeth are conveniently hidden behind the lips, so unless an owner takes specific steps to examine the inside of the oral cavity, they’ll never know about the condition of the teeth. Problems are often only noticed when they reach a late stage of deterioration.  

Poor Oral Health Care

Dental disease is common With up to 80% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of three suffering from poor oral health, and most owners not being aware of this fact. When bacteria accumulates around diseased, infected teeth, they form a focus that can spread in the bloodstream to elsewhere in the body.

Home Dental Care

Dental disease is almost completely preventable with a proactive home care routine. It makes sense for caring owners to engage with this concept.

There’s a myth that dogs’ teeth are somehow “self-cleaning”.  The truth is that pets’ teeth are surprisingly similar to humans.

The build-up of tartar leads to periodontal disease, bacterial infection, and loose, diseased teeth. Regular cleaning of the teeth removes the plaque.

brown dog and teeth

Plague Removal

The 2017 World Small Animal Veterinary Association Global Guidelines include expert recommendations for pet dental care: the conclusion is that optimal tooth cleaning requires a combination of two methods: active and passive. 


Active homecare (tooth brushing)  is most effective on the front teeth (incisors and the long, pointy canine teeth).


Passive homecare (chew based products) are more effective on the back teeth, where chewing occurs. Ideally, both should be done daily. 

When pets have had no home dental care for many years, it’s common for their to be a significant build-up of hard tartar on the teeth. If this is minor, studies have proved that some degree of tartar reduction occurs after a period of feeding dog dental chews for 28 days. However, in more advanced cases, a visit to the vet is needed, for a thorough descale-and-polish under general anaesthesia. This needs to be done before a home dental care plan can be put into place.

Pet Teeth Brushing

Active home care sounds complicated for pets, but it’s just a matter of training. Start when the animal is young, and use specific pet toothpaste, with a toothbrush. For large or medium-sized dogs use an adult-sized human toothbrush, for small dogs use a child-sized toothbrush and for cats use a special brush or a finger pad. 

Keep brushing sessions short (no longer than two minutes), rewarding your pet for allowing you to do this. Remember that the most important teeth to brush are the easily accessible front teeth.

dog with stick

Dental Chews

Passive home care is the best way to keep the back teeth clean. It’s important to use products that have been designed specifically for this purpose, and which have been demonstrated to effectively clean the teeth. 

Dental chews made from compressed wheat and cellulose, incorporated into treats, as well as rawhide chews, have good evidence for efficacy, as do some special tooth-cleaning pet diets.  Plain baked biscuit treats and chew toys have not been shown to clean the teeth effectively, while tooth fractures are a risk for very hard chew products such as antlers, hooves, or raw bones. 

All mammals – apart from pangolins and anteaters– have teeth, which means that all mammalian pets need dental care. While toothbrushing is inappropriate for rabbits and guinea pigs, this does not mean that their teeth can be ignored: dental disease is common in these species too. It’s worth taking time to read up about the specific dental needs of whatever pet you own.