Dental disease is a big problem for many pets, resulting in bad breath, painful gingivitis and even tooth loss. Brushing every day is ideal, but if there is a significant amount of tartar on the teeth, the only way to remove that is with a professional cleaning, ideally under anesthesia, if your pet is health enough for that. Anesthesia allows us to do a thorough evaluation of all the teeth and gums, scale both above and below the gumline and extract any severely diseased teeth. But it's no longer the only option.
People always ask if they can use a treat/spray/water additive/special food, etc instead of brushing. Honestly, there is nothing that is as good as brushing, but things like tartar control treats can help keep the tartar soft longer, so that if you can't brush every day, you can still do a pretty good job at preventing tartar accumulation.
This is an ideal healthy mouth.
Gums should be pale pink, and nicely adhered to the tooth. There should not be dark tartar on the surface of the tooth, nor should there be a pocket between the tooth and gum. Loose or missing teeth, or red bleeding gums are signs of significant dental disease.
The mouth below has significant tartar accumulation and gingivitis with pockets between the tooth and gum around the large canine teeth. There are also several loose teeth; gingivitis is the leading cause of tooth loss.
Brushing teeth is an essential part of dental health. Plaque takes 24 hours to solidify on the teeth and form tartar, so ideally we recommend brushing your pet's teeth every day.
We understand that this isn't always easy to do, especially if you haven't started when your pet is young, but it's still very possible for most pets.
Pick a time when your pet is relaxed, then lift up the lip and gently run your finger along the outside of the teeth. If your pet's gums are very red or bleeding, do not proceed. If your pet objects to this, it could be that their gums are sensitive (usually due to gingivitis) or perhaps your pet's temperament is not going to allow this to happen. Most pets will allow their mouth to be handled, but use caution of your pet is grumpy for other things, don't put yourself at risk.
Starting by running your finger gently along the teeth at the gum line. It is best to do this with the mouth in a relaxed position, that is, don't pull the mouth open. Just run your finger along the outside of the teeth and then give your pet a treat/attention as a reward. Do this daily until your pet gets used to you doing it and doesn't fuss about it.
Then put a dab (pea sized) of pet toothpaste on your finger and spread it from the front center to the back on each side. It's important to use pet toothpaste for two reasons: human toothpaste is not meant to be swallowed, and sometimes human toothpastes contain the sweetener Xylitol, which is extremely toxic to pets.
Once your pet is used to the finger with toothpaste, you can start with a soft brush. Brush up and down, just like you do your own teeth. Concentrate on the outside of the teeth (the side facing the cheek) because the tongue keeps the inside pretty clean. You may only be able to do a couple teeth at first, just take your time and gradually increase the amount of teeth you brush. Always reward your pet after brushing, that way they'll come to look forward to it.
Here is the same mouth after cleaning. The tartar which was removed is 90% bacteria in composition. This pet's mouth smells much better and the gums can heal from many of the gingivitis changes.