Dogs and cats are born without teeth in their gums but these erupt in the first couple of weeks of life. Like humans, they have baby teeth, which they shed between 3-6 months and adult teeth take their place. Baby teeth are extraordinarily sharp and can be compared to little needles. They often come out during an energetic game or when the puppy is chewing something, some are swallowed and the owner is often unaware but occasionally they are spat out on the floor, prompting a panicked call to the local vet.
Vets commonly see mouths in absolutely horrific states and the owners involved often have no idea how bad their pet's teeth were. Most owners rarely look in their pets mouths, and the teeth that are worst affected in dogs and cats are hidden behind their lips. Just as with human teeth, plaque is left behind on teeth after eating. If this is not removed then it mixes with saliva and becomes tartar. Tartar is brown and rock-hard and gets between the teeth and gums causing inflammation known as gum disease. It can only be removed by scraping, something that very few pets will tolerate while concious as these gums are so sore, which is why an anaesthetic is necessary when your pet's mouth gets to this stage.
Most dog and cat owners have a vague idea that they * should* be brushing their pet's teeth. But less than 10% do regularly. There is a myth out there that animal teeth are 'self cleaning' but this is not the case. Regular brushing is the best way to make sure your pet's teeth stay healthy.
This video by Norman Johnstone of DentalVets explains how to brush your dog's teeth- the procedure is similar for cats.
It's not that hard and pets do get used to it very quickly if their teeth are in good condition.
It's best to use products made specifically for animals- Long, thin tooth brushes at the correct angle, or a finger brush and meat flavoured toothpaste will make the job a lot easier for both of you. Don't use human toothpaste as it will give pets a sore stomach-it's too foamy for them.
Tooth brushing is undoubtedly 'best practice' when it comes to dog and cat dental care, but it's commonly accepted that many owners won't or can't perform this task on a regular basis. And sometimes it's the humans who are keen, but their pets that aren't co-operative. But if you suspect your pet already has gum disease, then that will need to be treated by your vet before you try brushing, otherwise they will associate the brush with pain.
There are a few other things you can try to help keep your pet's teeth clean. Feeding a good quality food that inhibits tartar formation or converting to the RAW diet, using dental chews or an abrasive food like Hills t/d diet, applying oral gels, rinsing with mouth washes or sprinkling Plaque Off on their food won't clear plaque as effectively as a tooth brush, but they are better than nothing.