Most owners don’t brush their dogs teeth but they should. Heres what to look for and how to do it.
Owning a dog means taking care of things you didn’t even think about. Take, for example, brushing your dog’s teeth. That’s right, just like humans dogs need to have their teeth brushed regularly.
What Is Periodontal Disease in Dogs?
Periodontal disease occurs when food particles and bacteria collect along the gum line and form soft deposits called plaque (yes, just like in people). Over time, the plaque turns into rock-hard tartar. If tartar isn’t removed, it will eventually inflame a dog’s gums. As the inflamed gums begin to separate from the teeth, pockets form in which more bacteria grow, causing periodontal disease to worsen. At this point, your dog can experience severe pain, lose teeth, form abscesses in his mouth and develop a bacterial infection that can spread through the bloodstream to the kidneys, liver, heart or brain – all life-threatening problems.
When To Brush
Experts will tell you that your dog’s teeth need daily brushing. But, let’s face it, that’s not going to happen. Perhaps weekly is more likely. Whatever your schedule will allow is something that you should establish as a routine. And, you should consider that some dogs might need more frequent brushing. Smaller dogs, and dogs with short snouts like pugs and bulldogs, may need a more frequent schedule of tooth care because their teeth are often more crowded making it easier for food to accumulate and plaque develop.
Acclimating Your Dog
Although your dog is not likely to need its teeth cleaned until it is several years old, it is a good idea to start the process when it is young – even as a puppy. This can include careful handling of its mouth, training it to open its mouth on command or when you place your fingers around its muzzle.
Obviously your dog isn’t going to have any familiarity with tooth brushing. They are very content to use a chew toy to satisfy their need to gnaw and it does help, but it’s not sufficient for actual cleaning.
Pet stores carry toothbrushes for dogs as well as small, plastic brushes that fit on your finger and special dental sponges. If these products don’t appeal to you or your dog, just wrap a piece of clean gauze around your finger instead. Start with just placing your finger in your dog’s mouth (use a surgical glove if that makes you more comfortable) and touch the dog’s teeth and gums slowly and gently. See how she or he reacts and adjust your touch if necessary until your dog gets comfortable with the process. You might want to dip your fingers in a substance your dog likes, like chicken broth, in order to make the experience more enjoyable.
Next, introduce the toothpaste. Not human toothpaste! Buy toothpaste made for dogs from a pet store or from your veterinarian. Pet toothpaste comes in a variety of flavors, including liver, mint, chicken and peanut butter to make it a more fun and tasty experience for your dog. You may need to experiment with a few flavors to find out which one your dog prefers. There are also enzymatic toothpastes that contain an enzyme called glucose oxidase. The enzyme generates hydrogen peroxide that targets plaque and tartar. Unlike human toothpaste, enzymatic toothpaste doesn’t have to be rinsed from the dog’s mouth because it can be swallowed safely.
At first, make the brushing sessions very short. As your dog’s comfort level increases you can lengthen the sessions until it is routine.
If the idea of tooth brushing doesn’t work well for you, your vet can perform it during regular visits. However, those visits may not occur often enough to keep your dog’s teeth as clean as they need to be.
Another tooth care process is tooth scraping, just like you have done when you go to the dentist or dental hygienist. However, this is something that requires a professional so it’s best not to do this on your own.