Just like people, dogs need their teeth brushed regularly to maintain their overall health. If a dog’s teeth are not kept clean, he/she can develop many medical complications that can lead to disease that can be life threatening.
As periodontal disease affects 85% of dogs over four years old, brushing your dog’s teeth should be a regular activity in maintaining your dog’s overall health and part of their regular daily routine as much as eating, exercise and grooming are. Here are some tips for keeping your dog’s teeth in good shape.
Check Your Dog’s Gums and Teeth Regularly
Once a week, check your dog’s mouth. Lift his/her lips to examine the teeth and gums. The gums should be pink, not white or red, and should show no signs of swelling. Teeth should be clean, without any brownish tartar. And your dog’s mouth should not have any extreme odor. If your dog has inflamed gums that are red and swollen and has bad breath, he/she probably has gingivitis. Thankfully, it is reversible with regular teeth cleanings. However, if the gingivitis is really bad and not treated, periodontal disease will likely result.
How To Brush Your Dog’s Teeth
To begin brushing your dog’s teeth follow a few basic steps.
1. Get your dog comfortable with you handling his/her mouth. The first step is to get your dog comfortable with you handling his/her muzzle and mouth. Put your fingers and hands in your dog’s mouth for a few seconds every day. Massage the gums with your finger in a circular motion for 30 to 60 seconds once or twice a day for a few weeks. For best results do this at “quiet times” away from distractions. End each session on a positive note with a reward and/or affection.
2. The next step is to introduce your dog to the canine-friendly toothpaste. Put a small amount on your finger. Start with the fangs (canine teeth) and gradually work around the entire mouth, mimicking what you would do with a toothbrush. Be sure to include touching the gums as well as the teeth.
Note: be sure to use dog-formulated toothpaste or a paste of baking soda and water. Do not use human toothpaste, as it can irritate a dog’s stomach. Never use fluoride with dogs under six months of age, as the enamel on their teeth is forming, and fluoride interferes with this.
3. Next, introduce a toothbrush designed for dogs. If you have a small dog, consider using a “cat-sized” brush to fit in your dog’s mouth. Toothbrushes that you can wear over your finger (or a clean piece of gauze) are also available.
Wet the bristles and put toothpaste on the brush. Hold the toothbrush like a pen and concentrate on the fangs (canine teeth) first. Apply the brush and clean with gentle circular motions and strokes from the gum line down the tooth. Work along the top teeth from the fangs to the back of your dog’s mouth. Again use gentle circular motion.
Finally, brush the front teeth. Gently take hold of the muzzle and lift the upper lip and brush the teeth. Some vets will say a forward to back motion on the teeth is also effective. Gradually build up the pressure applied to each tooth and the amount of time spent brushing.
Brushing the inside surfaces of the teeth are not as necessary as the outside, as over 80% of tartar builds up on the outside teeth. Also the side of the tooth that touches the cheek will usually be the part with the most tartar, so brushing downward from the gum will help remove plaque.
4. Make brushing your dog’s teeth a daily routine. Once you get the technique down and your dog is used to his/her teeth being brushed, try to brush them at least two or three times a week – although daily is best. Also be sure to have your dogs teeth checked as part of their regular vet health checks.
Use Other Dental Aids
Other dental care aids include chew toys that help massage a dog’s gums and help keep teeth clean by scraping away tartar. Oral water additives and rinses can also help with reducing tartar and gingivitis, but these should be used in consultation with a vet and not as replacement to brushing!
Here’s a helpful video demonstrating how to brush your dog’s teeth:
By making brushing your dog’s teeth part of you and your dog’s daily routine, you will help keep your dog healthy and happy!
Read more about canine dental care in our article on Periodontal Disease in Dogs.