Brush Your Dog’s Teeth to Avoid Serious Health Problems Although veterinary dental specialists would prefer that all owners brush their dogs’ teeth, the fact is that some dogs need it more than others. The accumulation of plaque (a “biofilm” on the teeth that contains bacteria) and tartar (a mineralized concretion of plaque) is not just unsightly, it’s unhealthy. Tartar buildup at and under the gum line enables the entrance and growth of bacteria under the gums.
Most dogs who have bad breath also have gingivitis – swollen and inflamed gums, usually bright red or purple, and which bleed easily. Unchecked, these bacterial infections in the gums slowly destroy the ligament and bony structures that support the teeth (periodontitis). Because of the ample blood supply to the gums, infections in the mouth can also poison the dog systemically, potentially causing disease of the heart, kidneys, and/or liver.
If you are one of the unlucky ones, and your dog’s teeth and gums need your intervention to stay healthy, how often do you really need to brush your dog’s teeth? Put it this way: the more you brush, the less frequently you’ll need to pay for a veterinary cleaning. Whether you would prefer to invest your time in patiently training your dog to enjoy having his teeth brushed or would prefer to invest in your veterinarian’s time is up to you!
A few tooth brushing tips:
Start out slow, and be patient. Don’t try to brush all of your dog’s teeth on the first day. Use a circular motion, gently scrubbing plaque away from the gum line. Reward your dog frequently and richly with treats and praise.
The “brushes” that you wear on your fingertips don’t tend to work as well as brushes with softer bristles – and they make it much easier for your dog to accidently bite down on your finger. Look for very soft-bristled brushes with long handles, so you can make sure you reach the molars. For larger dogs, soft brushes meant for adult humans work fine; baby human toothbrushes work well for smaller dogs.
If your dog will tolerate it (or you can positively and patiently teach him to accept it), electric toothbrushes work great! For some dogs, however, these whirring, vibrating brushes are a deal- breaker, no matter what kind of treats you offer.
Use a toothpaste designed for dogs. They come in flavors that are meant to appeal to dogs (meaty, not minty) – and they are free of fluoride, which can be toxic to dogs. (Remember, dogs don’t know to spit the toothpaste out!) Look for products that contain antibacterial enzymes, which help discourage bacterial growth and resulting gingivitis. Dip the brush in water frequently as you brush, to help rinse the plaque away from your dog’s teeth, and to facilitate a thorough application of the antibacterial enzymes in the toothpaste.
For more on exercising and maintaining proper dental hygiene, purchase and download Whole Dog Journal’s ebook Canine Dental Care.