The answer is of course yes, you should brush your dog’s teeth; however, it is believed that 95% of us don’t brush our dogs teeth daily! You may be one of those dog owners reading this and, with life getting in the way, you may believe daily brushing is unattainable. Time revisiting why you should brush your dog’s teeth may help set new goals and techniques, and whilst daily brushing may still seem aspirational you can at least improve on where you are today…
Why clean your dog’s teeth?
It may seem like a somewhat foolish question, but we already understand that most of us don’t clean our dog’s teeth routinely, so the incentive or rationale may not be as well understood. Dental care isn’t just important for aesthetic reasons (although they can be a good marker of other issues) as poor dental care can lead to life threatening conditions.
Periodontal disease (serious gum disease) can lead to a build-up of bacteria that in turn can lead to the issues of chronic infection with the potential to cause heart, kidney and liver problems. This may sound like scaremongering to some extent, however none of us want to see our dogs in pain or discomfort and poor dental hygiene could lead to just that.
Other obvious reasons for cleaning your dog’s teeth is to prevent bad breath and the build-up of plaque.
Signs of dental decay in dogs
Dental decay in dogs is very similar to humans. The difference, on the whole, is that we routinely inspect our own teeth and perhaps will have a loved one who will happily advise when we have bad breath…
Before you even try to understand the signs and symptoms of dental decay in your dog, you should get into the routine of inspecting your dog’s teeth. Dogs don’t always like teeth inspection (much like us humans!) so make sure you build it into a routine and reward your dog for any good behaviour, ideally starting when your dog is a puppy. If you cannot happily put your hand in your dog’s mouth, then some basic training should be in order.
One of the first signs to look out for is bad breath. This can be caused by the build-up of plaque, which will form over time without any dental care. Plaque will eventually start to harden and become tartar, which will inevitably lead to red swelling and/or bleeding gums (gingivitis). You are now looking at the early stages of periodontal disease in your dog and this should be addressed immediately before it worsens.
Other signs of dental disease in your dog include any abnormalities within the mouth (lumps, damage to the teeth or gums, loose teeth etc.). If you are ever unsure you should ask your vet to have a look, in fact 6-12 monthly check ups at the vets are a very good idea.
Best way to clean dog’s teeth
Starting this routine when they are young is the best idea however this may not always be possible, so the same approach will apply. Firstly, your dog should be at its calmest so trying to look at your dog’s teeth just before or after playing or walking may not be a good idea. When your dog is calm, you should start by gently rubbing your dog’s teeth using your finger covered in a soft fabric such as a flannel. Take your time to get your dog comfortable with this approach as this is a very important part of learning the best way to clean your dog’s teeth.
Like us, all dogs are individuals, and when considering how to brush your dog’s teeth this should be taken into account. You may have more than one dog and the time and approach needed to clean their teeth may vary as well as how prone they are to dental disease.
Moving on to a toothbrush
Once your dog seems comfortable with your finger then, and only then, you should consider moving onto a toothbrush. You should buy a special dog toothbrush and not be tempted to use a human equivalent (you can get special puppy finger brushes). Before you start adding toothpaste you should use the same motion as you did with your finger as your dog will already be used to this. Never try to force your dog’s mouth open as this could become a battle of wills.
Once your dog is used to the toothbrush you can then introduce toothpaste. You should buy specially formulated dog toothpaste which comes in lots of mouth-watering flavours (chicken etc….). First let your dog have a taste of the toothpaste (your dog should enjoy it, if not you may want to try a different flavour). Once your dog has got used to the toothpaste in its mouth, you can gently encourage some teeth cleaning with the toothbrush, positively praising your dog as you go.
Other considerations when brushing your dog’s teeth are similar to us humans. Don’t brush too hard as you could worsen any existing issues. In fact, if you have seen any of the symptoms of gum disease discussed earlier then you should get a professional clean performed by your vet (usually under anaesthetic). This will ensure you are starting with a clean mouth avoiding any risks of worsening existing damage.
When brushing, focus on the back teeth as well as the front as this is where potential plaque build-up can take place. Eventually you should reach a position of happy routine when cleaning your dog’s teeth for you and you pup!
What else can you do to help your dog’s dental hygiene?
There are other things you can do to help improve your dog’s dental care. We recognise that for some dogs it may be difficult to achieve the results you would want from brushing their teeth. Dry food is a good option as it is less likely to collect on your dog’s teeth than soft food.
Dog toys that encourage chewing can be a way of helping to remove plaque and there are now specially formulated edible dog chews that may help. We offer a word of warning with any extra treats you may offer your dog when considering overall health (see our article on feeding you dog here).
There are lots of dog teeth cleaning products on the market, from gels to special brushes. As with all products make sure they are credible, a way to check is to see what claims are made on the packaging, If the product has no scientific claims around tartar reduction then it is likely the product may not have gone through rigorous scientific testing and potentially may not be as effective. Also look for recommendations from your vet.
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