Why scaling your dog’s teeth at home is a bad idea

We’ve all heard that the best way to maintain our dog’s (or cat’s) dental health is to brush their teeth daily. Yet, how many of us really do it?

*crickets chirping*

Some owners will then see the yellow/brown tartar buildup on their dog’s teeth. There are many dental scalers you can buy online, and it seems like the perfect option! Once the build-up has progressed to this point, it isn’t going to brush off, and true, the only way to remove it is with a metal scaler. Your dog is good-natured, and you can scrape off that plaque before the disease worsens.

How is this not a great idea?

When you go to the dentist, or when your dog or cat has their teeth cleaned at the veterinarian (under general anesthesia), scaling the teeth is definitely a big part of it. However, the under-appreciated portion of the program is polishing, and this is a very important part!

Scaling (especially with the powerful, electric scalers we veterinarians have) gets the plaque off very well. In the process, it also produces tiny, rough, microscopic grooves in the enamel of the tooth. These grooves offer little nooks and crannies for bacteria to attach. This then allows plaque to build up more quickly, because instead of trying to adhere to a smooth tooth, it has places to grab on and attach. Compare it to rock climbing: you need little places to put your hands and feet to be successful, and without those, you won’t get very far trying to climb a smooth surface.

So if we want the tooth surface to be smooth and repel bacteria, what do we do? This is where polishing comes in! No, it’s not just about making the teeth feel nice. It’s about buffing off those micro-grooves and restoring the smooth, plaque-repelling surface to the tooth enamel.

dog teeth

Polishing must be done with an electric polisher, as well as paste. Ever notice how the paste is kinda gritty? There’s a reason for that! Think of it as exfoliating the tooth surface to make it smooth again.

Many years ago I worked at a place that had a dental tech who didn’t polish very well. I could always tell which animals she had treated, because I’d see them 6 months later and they’d already have a significant build-up of plaque on their teeth. Polishing isn’t just cosmetic – it’s perhaps the most important step!

Without polishing, those micro-grooves stick around. And if you scale often and aggressively, more and more microscopic grooves are formed. The more aggressively you scale, the more grooves are formed. So think twice before simply scaling your dog’s teeth and sending him on his way; you might be setting him up for trouble later.

What can you do to help get the tartar off? If your dog likes to chew, there are many products out there that can actually safely remove tartar, and it’s enjoyable for your dog! Here’s my article on how to choose a product.


Posted in Dental health.

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