February is National Pet Dental Health Month, which makes it the perfect time to brush-up on your dog’s dental hygiene. Dog’s aren’t as prone to cavities as humans are, but they do suffer from many of the same dental problems—tartar, plague, and gingivitis, to name a few. In fact, the “doggie breath” that we are all so used to is not normal. Bad breath is actually caused by the following dental problems:
- Tartar buildup
- Gingivitis (gum infection)
- Gum disease
- Periodontal disease
Besides causing bad breath, these ailments can affect the overall health of your pet. The bacteria that is formed from certain gum diseases can spread through the bloodstream into internal organs. As a result, poor dental health can lead to heart, liver, and kidney disease.
Ideally, you should have your dog’s teeth and gums examined by a vet at least once a year. The vet may recommend a professional cleaning if there is excessive tartar and plaque buildup. If a professional cleaning has been performed, routine at-home dental care should begin no sooner than 10 days after the cleaning. This gives you dog’s mouth a chance to heal before you start brushing at home.
How Often Should You Brush Your Dog’s Teeth
Daily cleaning would be ideal, but since this may not be possible, brushing at least once or twice a week should suffice. Frequent brushing is the single most effective way to ensure your dog’s dental health. Sticking to a consistent brushing routine can eliminate the need for a professional cleaning which is costly and requires your dog to be anesthetized. Here is a step-by-step guide to properly brushing your dog’s teeth.
Step 1: Gather Supplies
You will need the following items to brush your dog’s teeth:
- Dog toothbrush and/or finger brush—If you have a large dog you will need a long toothbrush. If you have a small dog you will need a finger brush. Finger brushes fit on your index finger and offer more precision.
- Dog toothpaste—NEVER use human toothpaste. The foaming agent in some toothpastes can be toxic to dogs when ingested.
Step 2: Get your dog used to the brush and toothpaste
If this is your first time, you will need to get your dog accustomed to the brush and toothpaste. This can be done by squeezing some toothpaste onto the brush and letting your dog lick it off. Most dog toothpastes are meat flavored so your dog should like the taste. Once your dog is fully relaxed and accustomed to the brush you can begin.
Step 3: Brushing your dog’s teeth
Begin by squeezing toothpaste onto the brush. Flip your dog’s lips up and gently rub the brush against your dog’s gums and teeth. If your dog allows you to do this, you can reward him with a treat. Concentrate on the gum line and the outer surfaces of the teeth. Pay special attention to the upper back teeth as this is where tartar and gum erosion occurs most frequently. Use the same brushing motion as you would use on yourself. If the plaque cannot be brushed off or if there is obvious discomfort when you brush a particular area, contact your vet.
Your dog may not let you brush for very long in the beginning, but if you are consistent, your dog will eventually let you brush his teeth more thoroughly. Making the experience enjoyable with treats and sweet-talk are the best ways to get your dog accustomed quickly.
Click on the links below to learn more about how you can improve your pet’s dental health.
American Veterinary Medical Association
American Veterinary Dental College
Pet Dental Care Brochure
National Pet Dental Association
ASPCA- 10 Steps to Your Dog’s Dental Health
Animal Planet-Dog Dental Health 101