Q: My vet keeps harping on us about brushing our dog’s teeth every day. He lets us but he also eats hard food and tartar-control treats and chews. Why all the attitude from vets?
A: During every single veterinary exam I ever perform (and if my math is correct, I’ve done well over 100,000 of these throughout my 22 years in practice), I look carefully at my patients’ teeth. That is, if they let me. And the vast majority will!
When I’m in there, I know I can only get a limited look. After all, no pet enjoys getting lips lifted and teeth touched by foreign fingers. But there are always a few things that become immediately apparent to any seasoned observer:
▪ The amount of tartar build-up on the teeth.
▪ The degree of redness and puffiness of the gums closest to the teeth.
▪ The color of the teeth.
▪ The integrity of the teeth (are any chipped or fractured?).
▪ The odor (hard to miss).
It’s at this point when I’ll comment on my findings, pulling no punches and speaking nothing but the honest truth. Twenty percent of the time I’m pleased to offer a good report. The rest of the time? Not so much.
Whether the review is favorable or not, I’m always prompted to ask about how the teeth are handled at home. I always approach my pet people from a POV that assumes they do something for their pet’s teeth. Typically, my responses are as follows:
▪ 5 percent brush regularly.
▪ 10 percent brush occasionally.
▪ 10 percent let the groomer brush.
▪ 75 percent use “tartar-control” treats, chews or water additives.
▪ 75 percent feed hard food.
▪ 80 percent let you clean them professionally.
▪ 5 percent do nothing.
Seventy-five percent of my clients never brush their pets’ teeth; 75 percent consider hard food a reasonable approach to dental health; 75 percent believe that tartar control treats and chews are beneficial. The vast majority of this latter group, in fact, believes that anything marketed for oral health is all a pet needs.
According to the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC.org), however, nothing could be further from the truth. Few products do more than get you 10 percent as far as brushing does. But don’t get me wrong; chews are great. Dogs need to chew on stuff for lots of reasons, especially for their mental health.
But nothing beats brushing. I’m with your vet on this one.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.