Do we really have to brush our pets’ teeth every day?

Q: Our veterinarian says that our Yorkie’s periodontal disease is incurable and that she needs daily brushing. I find it ridiculous that veterinarians would expect normal people to brush their pets’ teeth every single day, especially if they’re already being told that nothing is going to cure the problem.

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Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami.

A: As I see it you have two issues: the incurability of your dog’s disease and the unrealistic prospect of daily tooth brushing.

Periodontal disease (also referred to as periodontitis) is currently regarded as the most prevalent disease of pets. In fact, a majority of pets over the age of 3 display clinical signs of periodontal disease (usually bad breath and visible tartar on the teeth).

Veterinarians have long held that periodontal disease is the inevitable consequence of inadequate oral hygiene. It’s why veterinarians tell pet owners to brush their pets’ teeth and recommend routine anesthetic cleaning.

For most pets, however, we now understand that periodontal disease occurs regardless of hygiene. There’s no amount of brushing, scaling or polishing that will completely eliminate the underlying disease process.

Periodontal disease is a progressive process by which the structures that surround the teeth become inflamed as a reaction to oral bacteria. It starts with gingivitis and progresses to tooth loss once the teeth’s attachments are affected.

Once these attachments are lost, they cannot be recovered. Which is probably why your veterinarian says your Yorkie’s disease is “incurable.”

While it’s undeniable that your Yorkie will never regain those attachments, the gingivitis is, to a large extent, highly treatable. If you work hard on keeping the gingivitis under control, your chances of losing teeth in the future is diminished, sometimes dramatically.

Unfortunately, however, Yorkies are the poster children for severe periodontal disease. Along with other tiny breeds, they suffer disproportionately from inflammation of the periodontal tissues and, as such, are least likely of all dogs to keep all their teeth, regardless of brushing.

But does this mean you shouldn’t try? Not at all! Why would you miss out on a chance to improve her dental health?

Brushing is not unrealistic, it’s just that you’ve never considered it essential. All pet owners should be taught to brush their dog’s teeth starting in puppyhood and tiny breed owners, especially, should work hard at daily brushing from the very start. But it’s never too late! If she won’t let you brush, ask your veterinarian to recommend a gel you can apply to the teeth daily.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is Send questions to