Can you imagine how your mouth would feel if you didn’t brush your teeth for a week? How about a month? A year? That’s how many dogs feel. The fact is, even though our vets tell us how important it is, very few of us actually brush our dog’s teeth every day. Do you? If not, you should! Here’s why and tips for getting the job done:
“Daily brushing is the gold standard of preventing periodontal disease,” said John Huff, DVM, FAVD, Dipl. AVDC, a board-certified veterinary dentist at VCA Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver, Colorado.
Periodontal disease is caused by bacteria in the mouth that forms plaque on the teeth. Plaque hardens into calculus. Plaque and calculus under the gum line wreaks havoc on your dog’s mouth, leading to gum inflammation, bleeding and tooth loss.
Studies have shown that dental disease in dogs can lead to heart disease, liver disease and kidney disease. Your dog’s overall health is directly related to the health of his mouth.
Each time you brush, the clock is ticking.
“Plaque reforms in 24 hours and tartar forms in three to five days,” Dr. Huff said. “Once there’s tartar on the teeth, the brush can’t remove that because it’s calcified. So the recommendation is daily brushing, but the minimum is every other day.”
“My clients who are successful at home care brush their pets’ teeth when they brush their own teeth,” Huff said. “Just make sure you don’t switch toothbrushes!”
A great way to get your dog on board with daily brushing is to find a toothpaste flavor he really likes. Pet toothpaste comes in a variety of flavors designed to tantalize your pooch’s taste buds.
“My Italian Greyhound loves vanilla-mint, and my Lab liked poultry,” Huff said. “I’ve tasted them both and vanilla-mint’s way better! I don’t really have any interest in brushing my teeth with duck-flavored tooth paste.” (Neither do we!)
Don’t forget, never use human toothpaste on your dog’s teeth—our paste is designed to be spit out, something you might have a hard time teaching your dog to do!
If you didn’t introduce your dog to a toothbrush in puppyhood, he might balk at the idea.
“They have to like it because if they don’t like it, it just never works,” Huff said. “You can’t pin animals down and shove a toothbrush in their mouth because then they’ll just hate you. It’s really training, just like you train to sit or stay or come or any kind of behavior that you’re trying to modify. You have to start slow.”
First, use your finger to let your dog lick a little pet toothpaste. Next, wrap your finger with a piece of gauze, smear it with a little toothpaste, and gently wipe his teeth. Praise him for letting you do it. Later you can graduate to using a toothbrush with toothpaste. Brush just a few teeth at a time and go slow. As he starts feeling more comfortable, gradually brush more teeth until his entire mouth is fresh and clean.