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Is It Really Necessary to Brush a Dog’s Teeth?

Dr. B, Do you really brush your dog's teeth? Anna San Mateo, CA Despite the ridicule and scorn that are heaped upon me by anyone...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Jun 8th 2010

Dear Dr. Barchas,

Do you really brush your dog’s teeth?


San Mateo, CA

Despite the ridicule and scorn that are heaped upon me by anyone who witnesses the act (including in some cases fellow veterinarians or vet staffers), I brush my pal Buster’s teeth. And it’s paying off.

(Note for accuracy’s sake: I should say that Denise — that’s Buster’s mom — and I share the job.)

Dogs benefit from tooth brushing in exactly the same ways as humans. Food remnants stick to unbrushed teeth. Bacteria feed on the remnants. The bacteria cause bad breath and produce ugly tartar at first. Then they move into the gums and cause a major medical problem called periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is painful. It leads to tooth loss. It has been linked to infections in the heart, liver, kidneys, and lungs. It may be linked to cancer, diabetes and many other horrible ailments.

Some chores can be made into fun activities. Tom Sawyer’s friends enjoyed whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence. Doing the dishes or washing the car can be a form of brainless relaxation. Sadly, despite my efforts, I have not found any way to make brushing Buster’s teeth any fun whatsoever. It’s a chore, pure and simple.

But it beats the alternative. Unbrushed teeth almost inevitably decay (there are exceptions, but they are few and far between). No chew toy, herbal product, or food stuff consistently prevents periodontal disease as effectively as tooth brushing. Dogs and cats with periodontal disease must undergo expensive anesthetic procedures.

I am happy to report that Buster has no periodontal disease whatsoever. This is extraordinary for a five-year-old dog. Also exceptional: he also doesn’t have bad breath. These happy facts are the direct results of years of tooth brushing.

The American Veterinary Dental Society recommends brushing your pet’s teeth daily. Denise and I probably manage to get Buster’s teeth brushed five times each week. It’s a chore, but it’s worth it.

Photo: Buster displays a small amount of tartar (but no periodontal disease) on the labial surface of the left mandibular first molar. I will work on that.