Plaque & Tartar (Calculus) Prevention

tartar on a dog's teethWhat is plaque & tartar?

Plaque is an invisible biofilm that forms on teeth. It contains millions of bacteria. Plaque is the main cause of gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (inflammation of the tissues surrounding the teeth). When plaque is bathed in saliva, it absorb minerals and hardens to become dental calculus or tartar.

This is harmful in two ways. Firstly, it serves as a refuge for bacteria in the mouth in which they multiply. There is scientific evidence that oral bacteria can enter the blood stream and can cause problems in various organs. Secondly, plaque & tartar not only forms on the crowns (visible parts) of the teeth but also builds up at the gum margin. As plaque extends under the gum it causes the gum to either pull up and away (gum recession) or pushes the gums away from the roots of the teeth (gum pockets). Bacteria then enter the sockets and cause loosening of the teeth.

What can I do to prevent this happening?

Following a scale and polish under general anaesthetic, we recommend that the following steps which will help to reduce the formation of further plaque and calculus. 

1.  Regular brushing of the teeth is the most effective means of removing plaque thus preventing calculus formation. Do not use human toothpaste. There are several canine products available. Brushing should be carried out at least twice weekly and ideally daily if possible. Specially shaped tooth brushes make the task easier.

2.  Start slowly and keep the brushing sessions gentle and positive. You can start with a microfiber finger brush or a piece of gauze to wipe the teeth and offer treats as a reward. Once comfortable with this, start using a soft toothbrush. Most attention should be given to the outside of the teeth

3.  Try feeding one of the commercial dental care foods, if necessary mixing it with the usual food. If you have difficulties, as an alternative, try to encourage chewing dental chews.

4.  Special mouthwash is available that can be added to the drinking water or placed directly in the mouth. Other preparations are available that can be applied to the inside of the lips. The action of these preparations is similar to a human mouth wash. They reduce the number of bacteria in the mouth, resulting in less bad breath and plaque.

5.  Some dogs are more prone to calculus build-up than others. Regular dental check-ups are important and with professional dental cleaning (scaling and polishing) under general anaesthetic as necessary.

Please contact us if we can help.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Trevor Turner, BVetMed, MRCVS, FRSH, MCIArb, MAE. Adapted by Philip H Brain, BVSc, CMAVA, FACVSc (small animal medicine), FAVA

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