You brush your teeth on a regular basis as a part of your normal dental hygiene routine. Or, at least, you should. Why should your dog be any different? Our same dental health worries — plaque, tartar buildup, gingivitis — can affect our canine friends as well.
Dental care for dogs is very important. Dental health issues affect plenty of pets, and they can be quite serious if they're not addressed. That's why taking preventative steps ahead of time to keep your dog's mouth healthy is such a good idea.
While there are various ways to benefit your dog's oral health, the best way to care for your dog's teeth and gums at home is through tooth brushing. That's right — your dog's teeth can be brushed just like yours. But that doesn't mean you should grab a toothbrush made for humans, slather on some human toothpaste, and go to town. That could actually result in some serious health problems.
Brushing your dog's teeth the safe way is easier than you might think. You just need the right tools and a little patience. Let's take a look at why brushing is so important, how to do it effectively, and how often you should brush your dog's teeth.
Why Is Brushing My Dog's Teeth Important?
If you don't brush your dog's teeth, plaque will begin to build up. Plaque is a gummy mixture of bacteria, food particles, and saliva. If it isn't removed, plaque will begin to mix with minerals in your dog's mouth and form tartar, a harder substance that can start to cause oral health problems.
Some of the health concerns that plaque and tartar buildup can lead to include:
- Gingivitis: Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums caused by the build-up of plaque and tartar. It causes red, swollen, and possibly painful gums, and the gums can even start to bleed. Gingivitis is also a precursor to periodontal disease.
- Periodontal disease: Periodontal disease, often simply called gum disease or dental disease, is the next stage after gingivitis. It involves the bacteria in the mouth damaging the gums, bone, and supportive tissues of the teeth. Periodontal disease begins when the bacteria gets below your dog's gum line.
- Tooth loss: If the root inside your dog's tooth becomes infected, the problem may be irreversible. In this case, the affected tooth or teeth might need to be pulled.
Clearly, you'll want to prevent these problems in your dog. It all starts with preventing plaque buildup. Luckily, you have a great weapon so you can fight for your dog's dental health: doggie tooth brushing.
How Do I Brush My Dog's Teeth?
We've learned that brushing your dog's teeth is the top way to fight not only bad breath in dogs but serious health issues like gingivitis and dental disease. So, how can pet owners brush their dog's teeth safely and effectively?
First, a general tip: Your dog might not be completely comfortable with having their mouth handled, especially if you haven't done this kind of thing before. Be patient with your pooch, and praise them frequently throughout the process.
It's best to start brushing your dog's teeth when they're still a puppy. That way, they grow up with brushing as a part of their normal routine. But older dogs can have their teeth brushed successfully, too. It just might take a little more time for them to get used to it.
Here's your step-by-step guide:
1. Gather Your Supplies
Step one is to gather your supplies. You’ll need three items: a dog toothbrush, a dog toothpaste, and a few tasty treats.
Always choose a toothbrush that is specifically made for dogs. Human toothbrushes aren't designed for dog teeth, so they won't effectively clean them. There are traditional, bristle-style toothbrushes with a "handle" as well as finger brushes that slip over your finger for additional control.
Choosing a pet toothpaste formulated for dogs is equally important — human toothpaste often contains xylitol, an artificial sweetener that can actually poison your pet if swallowed. Never use your own human toothpaste for your dog's dental cleaning.
2. Get Your Dog Acclimated
Now that you have your supplies, it's time to get your dog used to the paste and brush. Sit down in a quiet, well-lit area of your home. Talk to your dog in a gentle, soothing voice to keep them calm, or have a friend or family member help to keep your pet still. Before using the paste or brush, simply lift up your dog's lip with a finger and touch the teeth and gums a bit. This gets Fido used to the sensation of having their mouth handled.
Next, touch the toothbrush (without any toothpaste) to your dog's teeth. Be sure to touch the front, side, and back teeth as you will when the real thing comes along.
Now, place the brush aside and dab a bit of the toothpaste on your finger. Allow your dog to smell it and lick it off of your finger. (Dog toothpastes are made with a variety of different flavors that dogs find delicious, like peanut butter or beef.)
3. Start Brushing
Dab a bit of the toothpaste onto the brush and gently pull up your dog's upper lip to expose the top teeth. Begin brushing, using a small circular motion and praising your dog in a soothing voice. Work your way from the front teeth around the sides to the back teeth.
Once you’ve brushed your dog's top row of teeth, offer a treat or two, and move on to the bottom. Pull down the bottom lip and repeat the brushing process along the bottom teeth, offering a treat when you’re done, until you’ve brushed all of your pet's teeth. Giving treats along the way reinforces the notion that remaining still and calm for teeth cleanings gets your pup a reward.
For an added boost in the dental health department, you can give your dog a chew like Native Pet's all-natural Yak Chews. These hard cheese chews give your dog extra nutrients while also helping to scrape some loose plaque away from their teeth and gum line.
How Often Should I Brush My Dog's Teeth?
You're probably aware that almost all human dentists recommend people brush their teeth at least twice a day. It turns out the same is true for your dog. Daily brushing, at least twice a day, is the best way to make sure your dog's teeth and gums stay healthy. If you can’t commit to twice-daily brushing, once a day or at least a few times a week is better than nothing.
An added benefit of making brushing a part of your dog's daily routine is that it starts to become second nature for them. The more you brush, the easier it will become. And that means your dog's dental and overall health will stay in top form.
Bear in mind that brushing your dog's teeth is always best as a preventative measure. It's far easier to prevent plaque buildup and the problems it can lead to, rather than reversing it after the fact. And if your dog's dental health is in bad shape, you'll probably need your veterinarian's help to correct it.
Tell your vet if you notice symptoms like:
- Foul, rotten-smelling breath
- Excessive drooling
- Red, inflamed gums
- Bleeding gums
- Reluctance to chew or eat food, possibly leading to eventual weight loss
These could be signs of gingivitis, periodontal disease, tooth decay, and other dental problems. Your dog might need a professional dental cleaning at the vet's office to get their mouth back to full health.
Brushing Your Dog's Teeth: What to Remember
Brushing your dog's teeth is an important thing to do for your dog's oral health and their overall wellness. It's simply the best way to prevent issues like plaque and tartar buildup, gingivitis, and periodontal disease.
Buy a dog toothbrush, a toothpaste made specifically for dogs (never use human toothpaste), and a few dog treats. Get your dog used to having their mouth handled, and then introduce them to the paste and brush. Brush the teeth, taking it in stages if you need to, and reward your dog with plenty of praise and tasty dog treats as you go.
If possible, start brushing your dog’s teeth when they're still a puppy. Otherwise, be patient as your dog acclimates to having their teeth regularly brushed. And remember to let your vet know right away if you're concerned about your dog's oral health in any way.
Read more articles about your dog's health and wellness needs by visiting the Native Pet blog.