Brushing your dog’s teeth may seem silly, but according to the American Veterinary Dental Society, more than 80% of dogs have some sort of dental problem by age 3. Besides teeth that look cruddy, poor dental health can cause a wide variety of health problems and even lead to serious illnesses and death.
Why you should brush your dog’s teeth
Good dental care is about more than just having pearly white teeth. Failing to care for your dog’s teeth can lead to periodontal disease, which is a buildup of plaque and bacteria under your dog’s gumline that causes an infection. This infection can spread to your dog’s teeth, jaw, and bloodstream, which can result in lost teeth, a broken jaw, heart disease, kidney problems, and lung problems.
How often you should brush your dog’s teeth
Just like your own, it’s best to brush your dog’s teeth daily, however, we understand it is more realistic to aim for a couple times a week. Interestingly if you feed your dog a raw food diet, teeth brushing can be done less frequently.
Dog groomers may try to sell you a toothbrushing service when you take your dog to get groomed, but do you think it would be effective if you only brushed your teeth once every couple of months? The more you can brush your dog’s teeth, the better. Some professionals recommend doing it after every meal, but we feel once a day is more than sufficient.
When you should brush your dog’s teeth
Try to brush your dog’s teeth at the same time every day so that it becomes part of your daily routine. Pick a time of day where your dog is calmest, like after their evening walk. You don’t want to chase your hyper dog around with a toothbrush if they think it’s play time.
Where to brush your dog’s teeth
While you can brush your dog’s teeth anywhere your dog is comfortable, it can be a little messy, especially when you and your dog are still getting used to it. You may want to brush his teeth in the bathroom or kitchen first, making clean up easier and having a sink handy to wash the sticky toothpaste off your hands or your dog’s chin.
What you will need
First, you need to get supplies. While you can use an infant toothbrush in a pinch, it’s best to buy a toothbrush made for dogs. Toothbrushes for dogs have softer bristles and longer handles than human toothbrushes, to gently reach all your dog’s teeth. You can also buy a finger toothbrush, which some dogs accept more readily than a full toothbrush and can make the job easier with very difficult uncooperative pups.
It’s crucial to buy a toothpaste made for dogs. Human toothpaste can make your dog sick. Even people aren’t supposed to swallow human toothpaste, and dogs are physically incapable of spitting. Dog toothpaste also comes in tasty flavors like beef or poultry, which your dog will likely enjoy better than mint.
How to correctly brush your dog’s teeth
Now that you have your supplies, it’s time to sit down and get your dog used to everything. First, squeeze some toothpaste onto your finger and let your dog sniff or lick it. Next, gently lift your dog’s upper lip and rub your finger along your dog’s teeth and gumline. They may resist this at first, so it’s handy to keep treats nearby.
Once your dog lets you rub toothpaste on the outsides of all his teeth with your finger, you’re ready to start using the toothbrush. Use the toothbrush gently at first until your dog lets you scrub the outside of all his teeth. If you can, brush the inside of your dog’s teeth, too, but some dogs will be less tolerant of this step.
Think you’re done? Not quite. The last step of the process is giving your dog lots of praise and affection afterward, so he knows that toothbrushing is a good thing instead of a bad thing.
About dental cleaning
Like people going to the dentist, your dog will still need to get his teeth cleaned professionally from time to time. This is usually done by your vet while your dog is under anesthesia. This allows your vet to scrape under the gumline without hurting your dog and your vet can pull teeth or fix cracks at the same time.
Lately, many places have started offering “anesthesia-free dental cleaning.” It sounds great, right? What could be bad about getting your dog’s teeth cleaned without the risk of anesthesia?
The biggest problem with anesthesia-free dental cleaning is that the vet techs who usually do the procedure can only scrape the plaque off your dog’s teeth without getting under the gumline. Your dog’s teeth will look better, but the underlying problem of plaque and bacteria under the gumline won’t be fixed, which means your dog will still have problems down the road.
Anesthesia-free dental cleaning also can’t fix any dental problems like loose or cracked teeth, so your dog will come away with a recommendation to get a regular cleaning anyway.
The other problem is that your dog is wide awake while somebody is using sharp instruments in their mouth, and your dog won’t understand why or what is happening. The dogs are usually wrapped up like a burrito so they can’t fight back much, but it’s hardly a fun or relaxing experience for your dog.
Unless your dog is likely to suffer side effects from anesthesia, you’re probably better off spending the extra money to have your vet clean your dog’s teeth rather than saving a few bucks with anesthesia-free dental cleanings.