Before I sat down to write this article, I brushed my dog's teeth. It took me less than two minutes, and yet still there are days where I occasionally forget or think, “I am too tired,” or “I don’t have enough time.”
These are, of course, excuses.
Brushing your dog’s teeth is the easiest thing you can do to keep your dog healthy and lower your veterinary bills. Sure, you will probably still have to get your dog’s teeth cleaned every once in a while, but the difference between a regular cleaning and having multiple teeth pulled is kind of like the difference between going to your dentist for a cleaning versus getting a root canal without dental insurance.
It hurts, and it is expensive.
Here is how you can care for your dog’s teeth at any age to prevent gum disease and improve their stinky breath.
Caring for puppy teeth
The best (and worst) thing about puppies is how impressionable they are. If you play your cards right when your dog is a puppy, she will love getting her teeth brushed just as much as she loves going on walks and chasing balls.
Veterinarian Gary Clemons of Milford Animal Hospital in Ohio advises that the critical age to start brushing a puppy’s teeth is between eight and sixteen weeks. This, he says, “will make the job easier when he is an adult.”
So how do you convince your new puppy that teeth-brushing is the best idea since tennis balls?
The American Animal Hospital Association, the accreditation body that oversees American veterinary hospital standards, has a few recommendations.
- Begin gradually, rubbing a finger dipped into beef bullion gently along your dog’s gums
- Gradually introduce a piece of gauze followed by a toothbrush designed for pets or an ultra-soft child’s toothbrush
- Reward with treats
- Make sure to focus on the gum line, as this is where plaque and infection build up
- Use a toothpaste intended for dogs, and do not use human toothpaste or baking soda, as these will upset your dog’s stomach
- Work your dog up to a full brushing slowly and be very gentle. Forcing your dog or causing discomfort will make teeth-brushing an unpleasant experience
These training tips can be applied to dogs of any age and can help dogs who are extra excited about teeth-brushing calm down.
Puppyhood is also a great time to get your dog hooked on chewing by providing lots of age- and size-appropriate chew toys. Chewing helps dogs keep their teeth clean naturally, so pick up a variety of toys to see which your dog prefers.
Dental care for adults
Teeth-brushing should be a lifelong habit for both you and your dog. The best way to make sure your dog has healthy teeth is to brush her teeth at least once a day.
There are a few toothbrush options out there. Some dogs prefer rubber finger brushes, which always remind me of finger puppets and prompted some embarrassing wannabe puppeteer moments that even my dogs judged. Others like toothbrushes. You should always use a soft, small-headed toothbrush for pets, but this is especially true for small-breed dogs. Sticking a big old toothbrush in their mouths will be uncomfortable for them, and they will learn to dislike the entire process.
Doggy toothpaste comes in several flavors, from peanut butter to a whole lot of meat. My dog's eyes get as round as saucers when I break out the tube no matter the flavor, but other dogs are pickier. If your dog has a food allergy, talk to your veterinarian about the best toothpaste for dogs with food allergies.
Adult dogs, like puppies, need to chew, but not all dogs enjoy this activity. If your dog does not like toys, you can always buy chewing treats designed to keep their teeth clean or feed a commercial dental diet designed to help clean their teeth as they eat. Several brands carry dental diets, and there are prescription diets available for dogs with serious issues with their chompers.
Adulthood is also the time to start thinking about professional teeth-cleaning. Your veterinarian will advise you about the best time for your dog to get a dental cleaning, and they will also examine your dog’s mouth during regular visits to make sure there is nothing abnormal going on in there.
Caring for senior dog teeth
Like us, dogs' teeth tend to deteriorate with age. Dental disease and a lifetime of chewing on anything from sticks to rocks can lead to painful mouths, loose or missing teeth and downright rank dog breath.
As with puppies and adults, continue to brush your dog’s aging teeth, but be on the lookout for loose teeth, bleeding gums, sensitivity to cold water or difficulty eating, as these could all be signs that your senior dog needs some veterinary intervention.
Many owners of senior pets worry about putting their senior dogs under anesthesia for a dental cleaning. Dr. Marty Becker, a veterinarian writing for Vetstreet, has a few words of reassurance. “With safety measures in place, anesthetic risk is minimized to the extent that the benefits of dental care more than outweigh the concerns, no matter the age of your pet.”
These safety measures include prescreening tests and the extensive care and monitoring that takes place during every procedure involving general anesthesia. While there is always a risk anytime an animal or person goes under, the benefits of having a clean, healthy mouth are almost always worth it.
Dental care for a better life
Periodontal disease can cause your dog pain and increase stress on their internal organs, shortening their lifespans and leading to potentially dangerous complications. You can help your dog avoid these pitfalls by following these tips for keeping your dog’s teeth healthy from puppyhood into her golden years.