It’s a natural habit to brush our own teeth on a daily basis but somehow, we as pet owners often forget about the dental health of our pets.
This common, daily habit of brushing your teeth should be extended to your dog as well, and as you learn how easy it is to introduce a brushing routine into your dog’s day, you’ll find their teeth are cleaner and have better health, and their breath will smell better too.
You may even find your dog learns to look forward to having his choppers cleaned.
Why Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth is Important
It’s vitally important to your dog’s health to brush his/her teeth on a daily basis. Forgetting to do so can lead to an unhealthy level of bacteria in your dog’s mouth and eventually to more serious issues such as periodontal disease.
If your pet has discolored teeth and/or bad breath, that might signify a beginning to serious dental health problems and even to later health problems with internal organs.
Periodontal disease is extremely common among pets such as cats and dogs, and not just in older pets. Dogs as young as three years old have been diagnosed with periodontal issues.
As important as it is to incorporate a regular brushing routine into your dog’s daily schedule, you might still have some questions about the hows and whys of caring for your canine’s teeth. Here are some answers to the more common questions.
At What Age Should I Start Brushing My Dog’s Teeth?
To sum it up, the younger you start, the better. The earlier you make a daily brushing regimen a normal part of your puppy or dog’s day, the easier it will be for them to get used to the process and even start to enjoy it.
When done right, tooth brushing can become a special time of bonding between dog and owner.
How Do I Brush My Dog’s Teeth?
Learning to brush your dog’s teeth effectively is not rocket science, but it will take patience. Here are 4 steps to a good brushing routine.
Brush your dog’s teeth in an area of your home that is relaxing and comfortable for the dog. That could mean cuddling on the couch or sitting on the floor in front of the TV, or brushing their teeth after your evening walk.
If your dog is calm and relaxed during brushing time your dental hygiene routine will go much smoother.
On the other hand, if you try to brush your dog’s teeth during a high energy time, such as right after you arrive home from work, you might find the process difficult and frustrating.
2. Choose a Comfortable Position
When brushing your dog’s teeth, choose a position that is familiar to him, such as having him lay on the rug with his head in your lap. The more “normal” your tooth brushing routine feels, the easier it will be for your dog.
3. Gradually Familiarize Your Dog with the Process
Instead of just jumping into your dental care routine, let your dog get used to the process. Start by letting him smell the toothbrush and the toothpaste with the cap off.
Take a few days to gently rub his teeth with your fingers and help him get used to having your hands in his mouth before you start brushing.
This process may take some time, especially if your dog is older, is a high-stressed dog or hasn’t had his teeth brushed before. Be patient as he gets familiar with the process and keep the atmosphere calm.
Eventually your dog will get used to having your hands and fingers in his mouth and rubbing on his teeth and gums, and brushing won’t be viewed as an invasion of personal space.
3. How to Brush Their Teeth
When your dog is ready for brushing, use the following technique:
- Move the toothbrush in a gentle, circular motion on each tooth and along the gum line
- Start on the sides and work toward the front
- Try to move quickly but thoroughly in order to keep your dog from getting restless
- Focus on the outside of the teeth where most plaque build-up occurs, and then get to work on brushing the inside of the teeth
- Stroking the side of your dog’s face as you pull his lips back will help him relax and give you easier access to his mouth
- Reward your dog with lots of praise and a treat such as a dental chew after brushing and praise him even during the process as you’re getting him used to having his teeth brushed.
By creating a calm atmosphere and using a thorough yet gentle brushing technique that is filled with positive rewards, you can help your dog look forward to his or her daily dental hygiene routine.
4. Finishing Up
As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to finish your dog’s tooth brushing regimen with lots of praise and affection, and with a small treat.
After that, you can rinse your dog’s toothbrush thoroughly with warm water, being sure to get any food particles rinsed away.
Follow up with a good hand washing and put your dog’s toothbrush and toothpaste in a place separate from human brushing tools.
By making dental care time a relaxing and rewarding time for your dog, you can help improve and maintain your dog’s dental and overall health while bonding at the same time.
Other Tips for Successful Dog Dental Care
When implementing a dental care routine for their dogs, pet owners often have other questions as well. Here are answers to some of the more common dog dental care questions.
Can I Use Regular Human Toothpaste on My Dog’s Teeth?
Human brushing pastes such as commercial toothpaste or baking soda should never be used on a dog’s teeth as the foaming agents and other chemicals can be harmful to your dog’s digestive system.
Instead, visit your local pet store or veterinarian’s office for one of the special, flavored toothpastes created just for dogs. Pet toothpastes come in flavors meant to be palatable for your dog, such as beef flavor and peanut butter flavor.
The Amerian Kennel Club has their own list of trusted toothpastes.
Your local pet store will also have special dog toothbrushes that help make brushing time easier for owners and dogs alike.
How Often Should I Brush My Dog’s Teeth?
Veterinarians recommend brushing your dog’s teeth every day as it only takes 24 hours for plaque to start to build up.
Doggy dental care only takes a few minutes each day once your pet is used to the routine, so it’s best to find a way to work tooth brushing into your dog’s daily routine, such as after everyone has settled down to relax for the evening.
What About Non-Brushing Alternatives Such as Dental Chews?
The pet industry has worked hard to help pets keep and maintain healthy teeth and gums by designing a number of oral health products such as dental chews, breath sprays, and toys designed to help clean your dog’s teeth.
Dental chews, plaque reducers and other dental hygiene products for dogs are great additions to your dog’s dental care routine but should never be used as a replacement for daily tooth brushing.
Are There Certain Types of Dog Foods that are Better for My Dog’s Teeth?
Not all dog foods are conducive to your dog’s dental health. Some dog foods however – mainly dry dog foods - have been specifically designed to help reduce tartar and plaque build-up in your dog’s mouth and to help promote healthy gums.
Some of the brands of dog food that are formulated to help keep canine teeth cleaner include:
Speak with your veterinarian about what types of dental dog foods might be the best choice for your dog, and follow his or her instructions about how to safely switch from one dog food brand to another.
When Should I See a Vet About My Dog’s Teeth?
Dogs should see their veterinarian on a yearly basis so that your vet can examine their overall health, including their dental health.
Dr. Brook Niemiec, DVM, encourages dog owners to get their dog's teeth examined by a professional starting on his or her first birthday. “Believe me, in some small breeds, as many as 90 percent will have some level of early gum disease by one year old,” Dr. Niemiec says.
Getting your dog’s teeth examined annually can help stop dental health problems before they start.
At the time of your dog’s annual well-check visit, your vet might recommend a professional tooth cleaning procedure if necessary. Besides your dog’s annual well-check visits, there are other signs of oral health that indicate a trip to the vet is necessary. Those signs can include:
- Excessive drooling
- Bad breath
- Discolored teeth
- Inflamed gums
- Tumors in the gums
- Cysts under the tongue
- Loose or broken teeth
- A loss of appetite
- Perceived signs of mouth pain
If your dog exhibits any of the symptoms, it’s best to make a trip to your vet to get them checked out just to be safe.
Taking care of your dog’s teeth has the same types of benefits of performing regular oil changes and maintenance on your car. If you neglect that regular maintenance, you are setting your dog up for more trouble later on down the line.
By implementing and maintaining a thorough brushing and oral health routine for your dog, and keeping up with that routine on a regular basis, you are helping ensure your beloved pet has a healthy mouth for years to come.
Get more detailed information on caring for your pet's teeth from the American Vetrinary Dental College.
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