The Dog Dental Hygiene Guide -
Dental care for dogs is an area that is often neglected. As pet parents, we often hear tips about diet, training, pest prevention and whatnot, but dog dental care is not something that is discussed very often.
Does this mean canine teeth don’t need any attention? Well, not really. This quick guide will tell you everything you need to know to give your pup’s teeth the care that they need.
Dental Disease in Dogs
Do dogs need dentists? Well, many dogs live their whole lives without having any issues serious enough to require an intervention. However, this doesn’t mean that they are not suffering from time to time. Dental disease in dogs is a real and common problem. But the good news is, we can do a lot to prevent the problem - with good dental care.
“Our pets need regular and consistent dental care to make sure their teeth stay healthy and functional for as long as possible, and to prevent dental plaque and tartar build-up and dental and periodontal disease.” - RSPCA
Periodontal disease is caused specifically by the buildup of plaque and tartar (2). This, in turn, happens in some dogs due to the lack of dental care. Periodontal disease is among the most common dental conditions in dogs which only goes to show we need to pay more attention to the teeth of our canine companions (3).
Are all dogs at risk of dental and periodontal disease? Yes, they are. However, research has shown that smaller dogs (especially brachycephalic breeds like French Bulldogs or Chihuahuas) are more susceptible than larger dogs. In addition to this, dental problems are more common in older dogs than in younger canines (4). However, to prevent problems in old age we should start early with proper care. But how exactly do that? Find out below.
How to Take Care of Dog Teeth?
A proper dental care routine is important. The earlier you start, the more chances you have of preventing any disease. But does that necessarily mean brushing your dog’s teeth each day? Not necessarily. Every dog is unique and what works for some might not work for others. There are a couple of options when it comes to dog teeth cleaning, so let’s go through each of them and consider the advantages and drawbacks.
Using a dog toothbrush and dog toothpaste is the most thorough dental cleaning option you can do at home. The process is essentially the same as with humans, but don’t ever attempt to use a human toothbrush or, even worse, toothpaste, on your dog.
Luckily, there are plenty of brushes and pastes made specifically for dogs. Doggy toothbrushes are softer and gentler than those made for humans. They are also designed to make the cleaning process easier for you.
Toothpaste made for dogs is designed to be swallowed. This means that the ingredients are quite different from those used in human toothpaste. The good news is that you can find many products flavoured like chicken or peanut butter which might just make it easier to convince your pup to endure a toothbrushing session.
For some dogs, getting used to a toothbrush seems to be mission impossible. In that case, dental wipes can help. Dental wipes are single-use pieces that you place over your finger. Then, you can use your finger to gently wipe your pup’s teeth.
Dental wipes usually come with active ingredients inside, so there is no need to use extra toothpaste. They tend to work quite well against plaque buildup, but they are not as effective as brushes at getting to all those hidden spots.
Dental wipes are also a good solution when you are travelling or just out and about. They are super easy to use, and you can simply throw them away when you are done.
You’ve probably already seen some of the dog treats that claim to keep your dog’s teeth clean. Do they really work? Yes, to an extent. These treats are often shaped in a way to promote teeth cleaning while the dog is chewing and sometimes contain active ingredients to help the process.
Giving your dog a dental treat is definitely easier than brushing their teeth. We wouldn’t recommend it as your only dental care tool but using a treat from time to time instead of brushing is ok.
Dental Chew Toys
It is also possible to find a variety of chewing toys that claim to clean your dog’s teeth. These chews can be quite effective, depending on their design. They are shaped in such a way to basically trick your dog into brushing their own teeth. If your dog is into chewing toys, this solution might be effective. Bonus points if you can get some doggie toothpaste onto the toy and get them to chew that.
On the downside, some dogs simply don’t like chewing their toys. Plus, these chews will never be as thorough as using a toothbrush.
One of the possibilities when it comes to dog teeth cleaning is also having it done by a professional. Many vets offer dental services, and sometimes you can also find professional services specialized in pet dental health. Having a dog’s teeth professionally cleaned is typically quite expensive, but it’s also the most thorough way to do it. Usually, you will only need to resort to this if your dog is having some problems or you haven’t cleaned their teeth in a very long time.
Maintaining Healthy Dog Teeth: Final Thoughts
What we tried to emphasize in this guide is that prevention can go a long way when it comes to dog dental health. Although dogs’ teeth are much more disease-resistant than ours, they can and do suffer from dental problems. The best thing you can do to help your canine companion and save yourself the trouble later is to establish a teeth-cleaning routine.
Tartar buildup (also called dental calculus) is the cause why your dog’s teeth might be yellow or brown in colour. When plaque is not cleaned on a regular basis, it will turn to tartar. Tartar is created by bacteria that live on the teeth and if not treated it can spread to the gums and cause serious problems. You might be able to reduce tartar with doggie toothpaste or similar products, but it's advisable to consult your vet in any case.
One thing that many pet parents don’t know is that bad breath in dogs can be caused by the lack of dental hygiene. It is often thought that bad breath in dogs comes from the food they eat, and this is true - but only in part. Try brushing your canine’s teeth on a regular basis and you’ll most likely notice a difference. If you’ve been doing this and there is no change, consult your vet as there may be an underlying issue.
For dogs who have never experienced the sensation of brushing their teeth, the process can take some time. Do not start with a toothbrush and toothpaste right away. This might scare the dog and create a lasting aversion to toothbrushing.
For a start, you’ll need to get your dog used to having you mess around the inside of their mouth. A good start is just moving their lips and gently touching their teeth and gums. Provide praise and treats if the dog stays calm. Once you get over this step, you can introduce the toothbrush. Again, do it slowly and with lots of treats in between. Only after the toothbrush is accepted you should start slowly introducing the toothpaste to the dog.
- “How should I take care of my cat or dog’s teeth?”. RSPCA. Retrieved March 29, 2021. https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/how-should-i-take-care-of-my-cat-or-dogs-teeth/.
- Watson, A. D. J. "Diet and periodontal disease in dogs and cats." Australian Veterinary Journal 71.10 (1994): 313-318.
- Pavlica Z, Petelin M, Juntes P, Eržen D, Crossley DA, Skalerič U. Periodontal Disease Burden and Pathological Changes in Organs of Dogs. Journal of Veterinary Dentistry. 2008;25(2):97-105. doi:10.1177/089875640802500210
- Harvey CE, Shofer FS, Laster L. Association of Age and Body Weight with Periodontal Disease in North American Dogs. Journal of Veterinary Dentistry. 1994;11(3):94-105. doi:10.1177/089875649401100301
- Vogelsang, J. August 20, 2015. “How to Clean a Dog’s Teeth: Tools and Tips”. Retrieved March 29, 2021. https://www.petmd.com/dog/grooming/what-best-way-clean-my-dogs-teeth