The following advice has been provided by Dr. Zara Posener, Head Veterinary Surgeon at Village Vet, Southgate.
When it comes to keeping your dog’s teeth and gums healthy, there’s lots to think about! For starters, should you brush your dog’s teeth; aren’t chews and kibble enough on their own to keep your dog’s teeth pearly white? And if brushing is the best option, how do you do it? What about your puppy’s teeth? If you’ve ever asked any of these questions, you’re in the right place. Here’s what you need to know about keeping your dog’s teeth strong and healthy, and help keep your dog a happy hound, too.
Should you brush your dog’s teeth?
The short answer is yes, absolutely! We humans are usually advised to brush twice a day to keep our teeth clean and healthy – and regular brushing is just as important for our dogs. Dental disease is common in dogs and can cause smelly breath, and can also be painful for your dog.
What’s more, left untreated, bacteria on a dog’s teeth and gums can spread to other parts of your dog’s body, which can cause damage to the heart, kidneys and liver. Unfortunately our dogs can’t talk to us and tell us how they feel and it’s rare for a dog to stop eating because of dental disease, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not in pain. So as dog owners we need to know the signs and know how best to keep our dogs healthy and happy.
The best way to ensure that your pet has comfortable teeth is by having a dental check done at your veterinary surgery at least once or twice a year.
How to clean your dog’s teeth – a step by step guide for getting started
It’s best to brush your dog’s teeth daily, or at least every other day. Plaque can build up very quickly and brushing less than this will do very little to keep your dog’s mouth healthy.
When you first introduce teeth brushing to your dog, think of it as a form of training. Like other kinds of dog training it’ll take time for your dog to learn. Take it slowly, one step at a time. Each step can take several days or weeks for a dog to get used to. When training is going well, give your dog lots of praise or a nice treat, so he knows he has done a good job! If they start to show signs of resenting it simply try again another day.
1. Introduce the toothpaste:
Warning: do not use human toothpaste – most toothpastes for us humans contain fluoride, which is toxic for dogs. Always make sure you use a specially made toothpaste that is suitable for dogs. They’re designed to be tasty so it’s worth finding a flavour your dog will enjoy. Why not start by letting your dog get used to the taste – you could try adding it to a bit of kibble or having them lick it off your fingers if you think that’ll be a more natural start for your dog.
2. Practice handling your dog’s mouth:
Gently lift his lips every day, followed by a treat afterwards, so he knows that when his mouth is handled he is going to be rewarded. It is a great opportunity to examine his teeth and make sure there are no broken or unhealthy looking teeth.
3. Brushing the teeth:
Put some toothpaste on the toothbrush, gently hold your dog’s muzzle closed to stop them chewing the brush and lift his top lip on one side to brush his canine tooth (the big long one). Repeat for the other side of your dog’s mouth. Work your way round the teeth each side of the canine tooth, brushing all the way round to the back of the mouth on the top and bottom jaw. On your first few attempts, you may only spend a few seconds brushing, but this can slowly be increased as your dog becomes accustomed to it.The inside surface of the teeth are usually cleaner, so unless your dog is very well behaved during brushing sessions, it’s probably not worth overly stressing your dog to clean these. Dog toothpaste has enzymes in it which helps to clean the teeth in addition to the brushing action. Your dog’s tongue will help spread the toothpaste around the mouth, allowing the enzymes to work on all surfaces.
How often should your dog get a dental health check with a vet?
Dogs should have at least one dental check a year. This often coincides with their annual vaccination, however, if your vet has any concerns they may advise more regular checks.
How to care for your puppy’s baby teeth
As any puppy parent will tell you, puppies love to chew, especially whilst they’re teething. It’s great to give them treats or toys to chew but always check these are safe for their puppy teeth – adult dog chews may be too tough and could cause a broken tooth. Always supervise your puppy when they are chewing to make sure they don’t choke on anything.
During their socialisation window (before a puppy is 16 weeks old) is a great time to start brushing their teeth. Although most puppies will lose their deciduous (puppy) teeth by the time they are 6 months old, getting them into a routine from a young age will help you to keep it up when they’re fully grown.
Some puppies, especially smaller dog breeds (such as Yorkshire Terriers, Poodles and Pomeranians), will retain their deciduous canine teeth. This can result in trapped food between the puppy and adult canine teeth, increasing the risk of dental disease. If these puppy teeth haven’t fallen out by themselves, a vet will usually advise removal.
If you can’t brush your dog’s teeth, what other options are available?
Sometimes it can be difficult to brush your dog’s teeth. Thankfully, there are other options! Various alternatives are available to purchase to help you counter the difficulties and practicalities involved in brushing a dog’s teeth and help to prevent the buildup of plaque:
- Dental diets
- Drinking water additives
- Dental chews
- Powder food supplements
- Gels to rub onto teeth
What should you do if your dog has brown teeth and red gums?
Brown discolouration is due to the buildup of plaque and tartar. This causes the gums to become inflamed and red, which is clinically known as gingivitis. Tooth brushing at this stage may prevent further damage to the tooth, but it cannot reverse the changes that have occurred.
At this stage, your vet will recommend a ‘scale and polish’. Some dogs may need this every year, many can go several years without needing one, but most dogs need one at some point in their life. This procedure will be carried out under a general anaesthetic and your pet should have a full health check before this occurs to ensure that it will be safe under anaesthetic. This is a very low-risk treatment but if you have any concerns your vet will be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Sometimes, a vet will recommend removal of a tooth if the damage has become too severe. Your dog should cope fine without a tooth, in fact, they’ll probably be much happier without a rotten tooth in their mouth! Even dogs with no teeth can eat without a problem, even kibble!