Your pet’s mouth is full of bacteria. Just like yours.
These bacteria secrete chemicals to help them stick to the teeth so they’re not swallowed down to an acidic death. This is plaque.
Once plaque has been in place for about 36 hours, it will absorb calcium from the environment and incorporate it into the plaque, hardening it into calculus. This is what we often call tartar.
Once the calculus is present, it is very hard and requires something harder, usually metal, to scrape it off.
This is what your veterinarian does when your pet gets her teeth cleaned. Because the procedure is sometimes worrisome or scary (sound familiar?), we usually sedate the pet so no mishaps occur with the sharp metal instruments and the soft tissues of the mouth. One sharp jerk of the head could give a nasty laceration if the pet was awake for the procedure. Although I guess many humans would prefer to be out cold for their dental visits as well.
After the cleaning, your pet should have movie star-white teeth.
But how can you keep them that way? Or if they’re young or lucky, how can you avoid dental disease as much as possible?
How do humans do it — brushing. Yes, really.
By using an effective brushing technique once daily, in theory you should be able to avoid most accumulation of calculus on the teeth. And no, not mint or cinnamon for your pooch or kitty. Most pets aren’t up for those flavors. But you can get turkey or liver toothpaste, and specialized brushes, often similar to finger brushes for human toddlers.
The market is flooded with many products claiming to help. Chewy treats and toys may help, but dogs and cats tend to chew with select areas in the mouth and may not clean all teeth evenly. Water additives are hit or miss on helping dental health.
But do remember, brushing teeth is weird. Begin it in your young pet and it will become routine. Try it in an old Yorkie with significant dental pain, and you’re not likely to be thanked.
Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.