Bark All About It!
Doggy dentistry isn’t much cheaper than its human counterpart. Therefore, it’s absolutely worth your while to make sure that your pup’s teeth stay pearly white. The best way to maintain the dental health of your dog is by adopting good daily habits, while also taking the time to actively clean your dog’s teeth a couple times a week. Here are a few ways to clean your dog’s teeth, and keep them clean.
Think about what your domesticated dog’s feral ancestors ate, and how they ate it. They hunted and scavenged. They used their teeth to scrape bones clean, and then chewed on bones for the marrow. This frequent rough abrasion was a natural means of keeping teeth clean of tartar and plaque.
This is why hard kibble is much more preferable for your dog’s day to day diet, as it provides that abrasive, polishing action as your dog chomps away. Hard food doesn’t have to be bad food. There are many brands of high-quality hard dog food that provide excellent nutritional value.
For the occasional dessert, there are also soft dog treats formulated to prevent tooth decay.
We know it’s tempting to spoil your pup with an evening surf and turf meal of filet mignon and a side of salmon in a rich hollandaise sauce. Unfortunately, while pup may find this quite agreeable, this definitely isn’t the best for his dental health. It’s too soft to scrape away plaque, and will actually cling between teeth and encourage tooth decay and cavities.
Avoid providing soft dog food or table scraps. Once in a great while is probably fine, but it should be a treat, not a part of your dog’s regular diet.
There are dog toys that come in a dizzying array of materials and varying degrees of toughness that are designed to help keep teeth clean, while also stimulating your pup’s sense of fun. Just be cautious not to choose something that is too tough, as this can result in broken or damaged teeth. But it should be hardy enough to give your dog’s teeth a workout. Stuffed animals and ropes won’t cut it (or the tartar).
Yep, you can brush your dog’s teeth with toothpaste and a toothbrush, just like you brush your own (hopefully). However, do not use your toothpaste to brush your dog’s teeth. Human toothpaste is formulated with the intent being that it will not be swallowed—if you look at the warning label on your tube of Crest, you’ll see that it specifically warns against swallowing toothpaste. However, brushing a dog’s teeth will inevitably result in the ingestion of quite a bit of toothpaste. When you add in the fact that fluoride is more toxic for dogs than for us, it should be clear that you don’t want to be sharing your toothpaste with your dog. Nor your toothbrush, because…. Well, ew.
There are many brands of toothpaste for pets that use enzymes and other ingredients to keep teeth clean, without presenting any toxicity risk. Additionally, there are toothbrushes that are designed for dogs—they often have a double-headed design, with two sets of bristles at a 45 degree angle to one another. These can make life a lot easier, but an old-fashioned regular toothbrush will work just fine.
Start slow with your dog. The sensation of a toothbrush rubbing against their teeth and gums can be really disconcerting. Start off just using your hands and fingers. Get your dog used to having his muzzle held and handled, and having your fingers rub against the outside of his gums and teeth. You can try dipping your finger in something tasty like broth or gravy in order to subdue your dog’s objections.
Don’t open your dog’s mouth. Just get him used to having his lips pulled out of the way, and having his teeth explored. Use lots of treats to reward good behavior. With your finger, make small, circular motions across the surfaces of the teeth and gums. Focus on one area for a few seconds, and then move on. Good brushing technique for humans and dogs are actually pretty similar, so if you pay attention to your dentist’s advice, then you probably know how to brush your dog’s teeth as well.
Do this two or three times a day for a couple days. Then, put some dog toothpaste on your finger, and do as before. This will help get him familiar with the taste and smell. For a few days, keep repeating the process, but extend the length of the session. Early on, focus on just rubbing the outside of your dog’s teeth. Once they handle this well, only then start opening your dog’s mouth in order to rub the inside surfaces. Continue with this process until your dog consistently tolerates it well. Do it for five seconds, then seven, and so on, until you can rub the entirety of your dog’s dental surfaces in one session (if possible).
Then, and only then, bring in the brush. Remember, brushes feel a lot weirder than your finger. Start slow, only brushing his teeth for a few seconds at a time. Again, give your pup treats when he or she tolerates it really well. Give lots of frequent breaks. Do brief brushing sessions every day or so, gradually increasing the length of each session. Follow your dog’s cues: if your dog is very patient and calm, then you can probably advance a little quicker. But if, they’re uncertain or anxious, keep it slow and gradual. With time, you and your dog will make a terrific tooth-brushing team.
Tartar and plaque tend to accumulate more on the outside than the inside of a dog’s mouth, so if your pup is sensitive to having his mouth opened or having the inside of his mouth touched, don’t worry too much. Try to brush in there every once in a while, but focus on the outside. Ideally, try to brush your dog’s teeth two or three times a week. But some is better than none.
If your dog remains consistently anxious about having his teeth brushed, consult with a vet or an animal dentistry expert, for information on how best to care for your dog’s teeth.