Believe it or not, taking care of your dog’s teeth is as important as taking care of your own. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, nearly two-thirds of dog owners do not provide the veterinarian-recommended guidelines for dog dental care. Periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition in adult dogs, and most dogs have some form of the disease by the time they turn 3 years old.
Just like us, dogs can experience plaque build-up if we don’t take proper care of their teeth. This turns into tartar, which accumulates around the gum lines and causes irritation, and can eventually lead to gum inflammation (gingivitis), bone/soft tissue loss, and gum disease. Bacterial infection can also lead to tooth loss and complications of the heart, lung, or kidney as your dog ages. The good news is that, with regular dental care, these diseases are preventable.
How to Brush a Dog’s Teeth at Home
The gold standard for dog oral care at home is brushing. Here are some tips for getting started:
- Get your dog used to the idea of having his teeth brushed. Keep the sessions short and positive. Dip your finger in beef bouillon and massage his lips in a circular motion for 30 to 60 seconds once or twice a day for a few weeks, and then move on to the teeth and gums.
- Wrap your finger in gauze or place a toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the teeth and clean in small, circular motions, lifting your dog’s lip if necessary. Because the side of the tooth that touches the cheek contains the most tartar, concentrate there.
- When you’re almost finished, brush vertically toward the inside of the mouth to clear any plaque you’ve dislodged.
- Use a brush designed especially for dogs; it’s smaller than a human toothbrush and has softer bristles. Toothbrushes that you can wear over your finger are also available.
- Use toothpaste designed for dogs; using your own toothpaste can cause distress and upset your dog’s stomach.
Develop a Regular Cleaning Routine
Consistency is key. Brush your dog’s teeth at least 2 to 3 times a week. Once a day brushing is ideal. The better you are at keeping a regular routine, the easier it will be on your dog and the more likely he will start to respond positively to you brushing his teeth. It will also help you remember to keep his teeth clean and healthy as you start to commit to a regular cycle.
Check for Tell-tale Signs
Between vet visits, be sure to check your dog for these important warning signs.
- Bad breath: Dogs can have bad breath for a variety of health reasons, including dental disease
- Swollen and/or bleeding gums
- Difficulty eating
- Yellow and brown tartar deposits on the gum line
- Excessive drooling
If you notice any of these warning signs in your dog, make an appointment with your vet. Your vet may recommend a professional dental cleaning, which begins with blood work to determine if your dog is healthy enough to undergo anesthesia. If he is, your vet will administer anesthesia to him and begin a comprehensive cleaning. This includes:
- A complete oral exam and x-rays to identify problems under the gum line
- A full cleaning under the gum line to prevent periodontal disease
- Professional scaling to remove plaque and tartar build-up on the crown
- Polishing the teeth to prevent plaque and bacteria
Specifically formulated dental dog foods and treats can slow the formation of tartar and avoid the onset of dental disease. Science Diet® Adult Oral Care dog food provides precisely balanced nutrition along with scrubbing teeth, freshening breath, and reducing plaque, tartar, and stain build up. Hill's® Prescription Diet® t/d® Canine dog food is an option to consider for smaller dogs. It offers nutrition for your dog’s teeth and is available in small bites.