While your dog may use a tail wag to show their happiness more so than a smile, it's important that you keep your dog's oral hygiene under close watch. Not only can plaque and tartar buildup lead to gum sensitivity and cavities, it can also result in oral diseases.
The Importance of Brushing
It’s something you heard often as a kid: Brushing your teeth twice a day is the only thing to keep the dentist away. The same thing goes for your pooch! While you won’t be needing to brush their teeth morning and night, you do need to invest in a special doggy toothpaste (that’s free of xylitol and other ingredients that can be toxic to your dog) along with a doggy toothbrush.
Brushing your dog’s teeth about once a week should become a standard practice in your household to help ward off plaque and tartar buildup, which can lead to cavities, gum disease, and tooth sensitivity.
While brushing, be sure to get all of your dog’s teeth. It may be difficult at first since it’s not a natural sensation for your dog, but after a few days of practice, you both should have it down-pat. Not only should you be sure to brush your dog’s canine teeth, you should also get the larger teeth towards the back of their mouth that they use to chew most food.
Many people never take notice of their dog’s oral health because brushing your dog’s teeth unfortunately is not a widespread practice as of yet. However, if you take your dog to their annual checkup, your vet will be quick to point out their state of dental health and how important brushing is to maintaining their oral health.
Treats and human food (especially peanut butter) contributes to dental decay just as sugary candy contributes to a child’s chance of getting a cavity. For your dog, this means feeding a nutritious diet is paramount to the health of their teeth and gums.
Healthy teeth start with what your dog eats, but regular brushing is also needed. Think about it this way: Even if your diet only consisted of the healthiest of foods, you’d still need to brush your teeth to stop particles from sitting on and building up on your teeth.
What Happens If I Don’t?
Many things can happen if you don’t brush your dog’s teeth. How quickly bad things happen will depend on the age and overall wellness of your dog, and their diet. However, never brushing your dog’s teeth regardless of these factors will still lead to these things at some point.
Bad Breath: The first thing to realize is that not brushing your dog’s teeth can lead to a immediate negative effect: bad breath! Regular brushing can help keep bad breath at bay by stopping bad bacteria from building up inside their mouth.
Cavities: The next thing that can result from poor dental health is cavities, which occur when your dog’s teeth are decaying due to a buildup of bad bacteria. Regular brushing helps remove and control bad bacteria that contributes to cavities.
Gum Disease: Poor oral hygiene can also lead to things like gum disease, which is painful for your dog due to sensitivities and loose teeth, and it can even result in tooth loss.
How To Brush Your Dog’s Teeth
The key to regular brushing is making it a part of your routine with your dog, but that requires teaching yourself how to properly brush your dog’s teeth.
#1 Choose The Right Products
Never use human toothpaste for your dog! Human toothpaste almost always uses sugar free sweeteners and flavors, which typically include xylitol or some other ingredient that is toxic to dogs. The chemical whiteners and other ingredients in human toothpaste can also be dangerous for your pooch.
If your dog managers to ingest human toothpaste, call the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center right away at 888-426-4435.
There is toothpaste specifically formulated for your dog using ingredients that are safe for them to digest (because, let’s face it, your dog won’t be rinsing and spitting)! You’ll also find doggy mouthwash and certain breath fresheners that can be added to their water bowl. Be sure to check the label for anything your dog may have allergies to.
#2 Get Them Used To Brushing
While you’ll only need to brush your dog’s teeth about once a week, which should coincide perfectly with any grooming you need to do (i.e., bathing, brushing, nail trimming, ear cleaning, etc.), you should start out by brushing your dog’s teeth multiple days in a row so that they become accustomed to the sensation.
Have your dog sit down in a calm and familiar environment to start. Using a verbal command that signals the event, like “Let’s brush your teeth!” will help them grow used to the routine just as they do bath time or going outside.
Your dog will want to inspect the toothbrush first before you put it into their mouth. Your dog is hopefully already desensitized to you lifting their lips and looking at their teeth. If not, get to work on that too! Allow them to sniff the toothbrush and place some toothpaste on it. Most are flavored, so they’ll likely want to give it a taste.
Lift your dog’s lips and briefly rub their teeth. You might find it easiest to begin by using your finger with toothpaste on it until they get used to you touching their teeth.
#3 Make It A Routine
In a matter of days, your dog should begin catching onto the routine of brushing. Once they are used to it, you can begin to brush their teeth once a week on a consistent basis. Your vet may recommend brushing more often.
While brushing, you should be visually inspecting their teeth and gums to look for signs of damage, decay, or other issues. For instance, bleeding or pale gums are a definite sign that your dog needs to take a trip to the vet for a professional checkup.
If you ever notice issues with your dog’s teeth or have any concerns about them, your vet should thoroughly check them over. If they find a cavity or the beginnings of gum disease, they may suggest a professional cleaning or an extraction to restore your dog’s dental health.