As a conscientious pet owner, you probably pay a lot of attention to your dog's vaccination schedule, pest-control products, wellness check-ups, exercise regimen, and dietary needs. One area of your pup's health that often gets overlooked, however, is dental health. It's easy to forget that, just like it is for you, regular teeth cleaning is important for your dog's health. And it's about a lot more than just preventing bad breath.
Dogs who don't receive adequate dental care are at a greater risk for plaque-build up, gingivitis, and much more. If dental health issues are allowed to progress, they can start to affect more than just your dog's mouth — perhaps even causing trouble with other organs in the body. (We'll learn more about that in a moment.)
The simple act of toothbrushing is the best and easiest way to help your dog avoid dental health problems from the start. And getting into a routine with brushing means that your dog stays healthy in the long-term.
Read on to find out how to clean dogs' teeth the right way in order to promote great dental health for a lifetime.
Why Brush Your Dog's Teeth?
When you brush your dog's teeth, you're removing harmful bacteria and leftover food particles to keep the mouth clean. If they aren't removed, they can start to form a thin film on the tooth's surface known as plaque. When it's left on the teeth and gums, plaque hardens into tartar, which is even harder to remove.
If plaque and tartar aren't removed regularly through the act of toothbrushing, it can lead to a whole host of problems. These problems tend to compound on themselves. If they aren't taken care of, you're putting your dog at risk of:
- Bad breath. While your dog's breath might never smell minty fresh, it shouldn't smell revolting, either. Bad breath is one of the first signs that the teeth and gums are developing an overgrowth of harmful bacteria.
- Swollen gums. Swollen gums occur if tartar builds up between the teeth and gums, causing redness and inflammation.
- Gingivitis. Gingivitis refers to a more severe inflammation of your dog's gums, caused by tartar build-up below the gum line. A dog suffering from gingivitis will have red, bloody gums and bad breath.
- Periodontal disease. When gingivitis isn't treated, it develops into periodontal disease, sometimes called gum disease or simply dental disease. This involves a full-fledged infection below your dog's gum line that could advance to the teeth themselves.
- Tooth loss. When the roots of your dog's teeth become infected, they'll rot from the inside out, most likely leading to tooth loss.
- Further complications. When periodontal disease goes unchecked, it can start affecting other parts of the body. Dogs with dental disease are at a higher risk for heart, kidney, and liver disease.
Clearly, brushing your dog's teeth is the best way to avoid serious health trouble down the road. And it helps your dog's breath smell better, too, which is always welcome. The question is, how do you go about cleaning Fido's teeth the right way?
How to Clean Dogs’ Teeth With a Toothbrush
Brushing a dog's teeth is as simple as grabbing a spare toothbrush and some toothpaste and going to town, right?
Wrong. In fact, that approach could put your dog in harm's way.
You'll need to perform your pup's dental cleaning with the right tools and with the right approach in order to make it effective and safe. Here's what to do:
Get Your Supplies
The first step is to gather your supplies. You'll need a toothbrush made specifically for dogs; you might consider a finger toothbrush, which slides over your finger to give you greater control, or you can use a standard dog toothbrush if you prefer. You'll also want to pick up a dog-formulated toothpaste made specifically for our canine companions. Never use human toothpaste — it might be sweetened with xylitol, an artificial sugar that's toxic to animals.
It's also a good idea to have a few tasty dog treats on hand to reward your pup after he's been a good boy for his brushing session.
Introduce the Paste and Brush
Rather than launching straight into a full-on toothbrushing session, allow your dog to smell and taste the toothpaste for a few moments. Gently rub the toothbrush along your dog's teeth and gum surfaces, without any paste at first, just so they get used to the sensation of brushing.
Once your dog seems reasonably comfortable, you're ready to start Fido's brushing session.
Put a thumbnail-sized glob of the toothpaste onto your toothbrush. Select an area of your dog's mouth to start with, like the rear right section or the upper front teeth. Start brushing that area with small, circular motions, holding your dog's lip up with your other hand, then move on to the other areas of your dog's mouth after about 30 seconds or so.
Focus your brushing efforts on the outer tooth surfaces (those that touch the cheek), because that's where plaque and tartar tend to accumulate the most. The inner tooth surfaces don't tend to hold as much plaque and tartar, so if it isn't easy to reach those areas, you don't have to force it.
Reward Your Dog
Once you've brushed all of your dog's outer tooth surfaces, reward them with a few tasty treats and plenty of verbal praise. If your dog is fussy or anxious during brushing sessions, try giving them treats after each section of the mouth is completed. This can help your dog learn that staying still for brushing gets them a reward.
Maintaining Good Dental Health for Fido
Now that you've learned how to brush properly and gotten your dog used to the basic process, what steps can you take to maintain great dog dental health moving forward?
Here are five things you can do to make sure your dog enjoys great oral health now and in the future:
- Keep up with brushing. Don't make brushing a one-time occurrence. The whole point is to do it regularly, just like you do with your own teeth. Veterinarians recommend brushing your dog's teeth every day. Always remember to use a dog toothpaste and a toothbrush made specifically for use on our canine friend.
- Provide chew toys. Did you know that chew toys are actually helpful for your dog's oral health? The act of chewing helps to scrape away some of the loose plaque around your dog's teeth and gum line.
- Provide dental chews. You can purchase dental chews, dental treats, or dental sticks at your local pet supply store. These products are designed specifically to benefit your pup's oral hygiene by removing excess plaque and tartar. Plus, they help your dog's breath smell a bit better.
- Feed a great diet. One of the simplest ways to benefit your pooch's dental hygiene, not to mention their overall health, is to feed them a high-quality dog food. You might also want to consider adding a dietary supplement that can boost dental health. Getting the right nutrition through food is a good way for your dog's teeth and gums to remain healthy and strong. And chewing on hard kibble can help to scrape away a bit of tartar from dog teeth, too.
- Consider a professional dental cleaning. If your dog's oral health is particularly bad or if Fido has gone without proper dental care for some time, your veterinarian may recommend a professional cleaning. Your dog will be put under general anesthesia in order for each tooth to be individually cleaned and polished. While it can be costly depending on the severity of your dog's dental problems, your dog's mouth will never be cleaner than it is after a cleaning at the vet's office.
Make Dental Care Part of Your Pup's Health Routine
Now that you know how to clean dogs' teeth and take good care of your dog's oral hygiene as time goes on, your beloved companion is set up for good dental health in the future. All it takes is daily brushing, supplemented with the occasional dental chew or dental stick. A great diet is also never a bad idea, both for your dog's dental health and their overall well-being.
Make dog dental care a regular part of the routine at your house, and your dog will stay in good health for a lifetime. That's something that every dog owner can feel good about, and your pet will thank you for.
For more advice on your dog's care, visit the PetHonesty blog.