Dogs And Dental Care – Everything You Need To Know

dog dental care

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Your dog is a special part of your family. They provide companionship and devotion to you without asking for much in return.

You want your dog to stay around for as long as possible, and keeping them healthy is so important. 

The one thing many people forget about taking care of their dogs is that their teeth also need to be taken care of.  

We know that wild dogs keep their teeth free from plaque because they chew on raw bones, which are a natural scraper of the plaque.

That also helps to remove any soft meat that may get stuck in their teeth that would normally cause bacteria to grow rapidly.

But dogs aren’t wild animals and don’t eat the same diet.

They need help removing the bacteria that causes bad breath and other problems. 

Your dog generally eats soft canned food or small chunks of the hard food, so these aren’t going to provide him much for natural teeth care like the raw bones that wild dogs chew on. 

Taking care of your dog’s teeth is one of the most important parts of caring for your pet.

Just like humans – dogs have teeth that can cause problems if they are not cared for with a proper dental routine.

You may have already noticed, but dogs can suffer from bad breath just like humans!

Why Is Dental Care For Dogs Important?

Did you know that studies show 98% of pets with bad breath are suffering from severe plaque build-up?

If only we could get our pets to brush their teeth regularly on their own!

Well you know that can’t happen . . . but we can help our dogs take care of their teeth and gums. They don’t, of course, realize how important dental care is to their health (and maybe you didn’t realize it either). 

So when you lean in to give your pet a smooch, ask yourself “Does my pet need a breath mint?” Bad breath not only means that your pet’s mouth may be a warehouse for unhealthy bacteria, tartar, and plaque, but it can also point to unhealthy intestines.

In addition, the quality of your pet’s food can contribute to the status of your pet’s breath.

Low quality food can cause digestive problems, thus promoting bad breath.

Dental Health Concerns For Dogs 

Many veterinarians stress the importance of oral hygiene because tooth and gum problems are common medical conditions seen in pets.

If left unchecked, an unhealthy mouth can affect the liver, kidneys, heart and even the brain. 

Your vet is an important part of this dental care. You can always ask your vet to show you how to brush your pets’ teeth properly.

Your vet knows how to brush their teeth properly to minimize the risk of gum disease or any of the other conditions associated with poor oral hygiene.

Following are some facts about dental problems that may either be causing your dog discomfort right now or might soon affect your dog’s health; we’ll also give you some tips on treating those problems.

Gingivitis: Gingivitis is a gum disease that occurs when gum tissue becomes inflamed. If not treated, gingivitis will lead to periodontitis, if it is not treated, gingivitis will cause your dog to start losing teeth. 

Periodontitis: Periodontitis is an advanced gum disease that attacks not only the gums but also the bones that underlie the gums. Commonly called periodontal disease, this is the most common dental problem for dogs. Even relatively young dogs may have Periodontitis or the earlier-stage gum disease, gingivitis. 

Imagine a year or two of buildup on your dog’s teeth — buildup of plaque, food particles, and bacteria.

If your dog has gum disease you may not have to imagine it, you will probably be able to see a near-white substance coating the teeth and gums — that’s the result of the bacteria. 

Tooth fractures: Dogs love to gnaw on things like bones and when they do they might develop small fractures of their teeth. Endodontic disease is the name for infections that develop inside these fractures.

Dog Dental Care Teeth

How Can I Care For My Dog’s Teeth?

Preventing the problems mentioned above is as simple as keeping your dog’s teeth clean.

Clean teeth means less bacteria and less bacteria means less disease . . . and the bonus of no more ‘doggie-breath.’ 

You are going to need to spend some time finding the right toothbrush for your dog.

You can use a child’s toothbrush in a pinch – but it is recommended that you rather buy a special toothbrush for your pet. It will make brushing easier and will be worth the money. 

Here are some tips for choosing the best brush for your dog.

You need to make sure that the bristles are soft so they don’t damage the dog’s gums.

You also need to make sure you choose the right sized brush –  just make sure it isn’t too big or too small for your dog’s mouth.

Check that the handle is big enough for you to comfortably get a grip on the toothbrush.

Can I Share My Toothpaste With My Pet? Absolutely Not! 

Pets aren’t like us: they swallow whatever you use to clean their teeth. Human toothpaste simply isn’t edible for dogs. Nor is the heavy minty flavor desirable to dogs. 

Human toothpaste can give your pet some serious stomach problems. 

In addition, many human toothpaste brands are including xylitol. Xylitol is known to prevent bacteria growth, which is why it is often added to human toothpaste. However, xylitol is very deadly to dogs and even small amounts can be fatal.

Instead, use a special high quality toothpaste with ingredients specially formulated for dogs.

Cheaper brands might use ingredients that are harmful to your pet, and there are some common ingredients that can make your pet sick.

Stick with well-known brands with high quality standards to be safe.

How To Begin Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth

Brushing your dogs’ teeth for the first time can be difficult; especially if they are not used to it.

Ideally, you should start brushing a dog’s teeth when it’s a puppy.

As a puppy this will be more of a game than a scary thing and, over time, it will turn into an activity they love.

The key is to be gentle, speak in a soft voice and do not force them.   

If it’s too late for that don’t worry, though! You can teach an old dog new tricks!

The fact that toothpaste for dogs is often meat-flavored helps them learn to enjoy their new treat.

If your dog is older, introduce them to having their teeth brushed by coating a toothbrush with something the dog likes to taste, such as a natural peanut butter.

Let your dog lick it and even chew on it for just a second.

The next day, the dog will recognize the toothbrush in your hand and come running over for another “treat.” Gradually work your way into brushing its teeth like that, day-by-day. 

Start from the back of the mouth and work your way forward in small circular motions. 

If your dog really does not want to allow you to brush his teeth without a fight you can use a towel first.

Try rubbing his teeth so he gets used to the sensation as well as your fingers in his mouth. Speak encouragingly and softly; you can even sing a little tune to calm him down.

You can then progress to a finger brush. This is a dog toothbrush that slips over your finger and some dogs handle that easier than a toothbrush at first.

Once they’re comfortable with the finger brush, try adding a regular toothbrush to their routine instead of the finger brush.

After a few weeks your dog will likely allow you to brush their teeth without any hassles.

 How Often You Should Brush Your Dog’s Teeth

Ideally,  brushing your dogs’ teeth daily is best. But if you can’t manage that – once every other day should be fine.

By doing this you will help ensure that your dogs’ teeth will last well into old age; and of course his dog breath will improve.

What Other Things Help Improve Dog Dental Care

The first thing you can do to help your dog’s teeth is to let them have dental chews regularly – at least a couple of times a week. 

It can be a raw soup bone from the grocery store, or it could be a good raw bone you can find in your local pet store.

They’ll instinctively chew on the bone and the plaque can easily be scraped off and any soft meat that may be stuck between their teeth will get loosened up.

Just be careful with them if you have a heavy chewer or your dog has already had dental issues. Chewing too much on hard bones can cause their teeth to crack.

You can also buy some mouthwash for your dog. Not even kidding! There are mouthwash products for dogs.

Just ignore that mental picture of trying to get your dog to gargle.

Technically, it’s simply a water additive!

You just add some to your dog’s water dish and it will not only improve your dog’s breath, it will help keep the dog’s teeth clean and free of tartar.

Important: If you think that your dog has gum disease or fractured teeth take the dog to a vet to have the condition treated and cleared up before you try brushing the teeth yourself.

If your dog has diseased gums, any attempt at tooth brushing may be painful and they may associate tooth brushing with pain.

How To Tell If Your Dog Has Dental Issues

 Did you know certain breeds of dogs are genetically predisposed to unhealthy teeth and gums? For example, the Maltese is the number one dog breed with tooth and gum problems.

Breed isn’t the sole cause of dental issues, though. Other factors include viruses, bacteria and not enough abrasive foods.

Also, some rescued street dogs can struggle with dental issues throughout their life due to poor nutrition as a puppy.

Many veterinarians stress the importance of oral hygiene because tooth and gum problems are common medical conditions seen in pets.

If left unchecked, an unhealthy mouth can affect the liver, kidneys, heart and even the brain. 

It all starts with the gums looking almost red, and some of the teeth coated with tartar.

When it comes to your pet’s mouth, don’t take anything for granted.

When you examine your pet, slowly open his mouth with your fingers and ask yourself the following questions:

Does his breath smell?

Are any of his canines or molars discolored (gray, brown or green)? Keep in mind that some dog’s teeth may be yellow due to early antibiotics, or a poor diet as a puppy.

Are his gums swollen and bright pink or angry red like a lobster with a sunburn? Note that normal colored gums should be light to medium pink. 

Do you see any sores on the gums? They’ll look like craters on the top or bottom gum or lip. 

Do you see any swelling or sores on his face around the lips, under the eyes or nose? Bad teeth can result in a manifestation of external sores.

Is he drooling more often? Keep in mind that some dogs always drool, like the St. Bernard. If your pet is experiencing excessive drooling but doesn’t usually, it could indicate some problem. 

Has he lost weight recently as a result of not eating enough? 

It’s also important to observe your pet’s behavior as far as food is concerned.

Has your pet been approaching his food bowl reluctantly? Has he been eating slower than usual and has he exhibited trouble biting hard things? Does your dog cry during or after eating? Do they have the tendency to pick up food, spit it out, pick it up again and finally throw it to the back with his tongue?

If you’ve nodded your head to two or more of any of the questions above, then your dog may be dealing with some dental health issues that your vet can assist with.

What’s Involved in A Dog Dental Cleaning

A professional dental cleaning for dogs is much like ones for humans.

It involves your veterinarian taking x-rays to look for any broken teeth and other issues.

They will also draw blood to ensure your dog has no health issues that would make general anesthesia more of a concern. 

Once your dog is asleep, they will begin the scaling process. After that’s complete, they’ll polish the teeth to smooth down any rough areas that tartar could build up on more rapidly.

You may also receive a call discussing any issues they found that need to be addressed. 

Once the procedure is complete, they’ll monitor your dog and you can pick them up once they’re fully awake!

Are Veterinary Dental Cleanings For Dogs Safe?

While getting your dog’s teeth cleaned professionally at the vet is generally regarded as safe, there are some risks.

Most dogs are naturally wary of having their teeth looked at, much less scraped and scrubbed.

This is why the process generally involves your dog being given general anesthesia.

While most dogs handle it fine, research estimates that around 1 of every 2,000 healthy dogs die from anesthesia-related causes each year. 

In addition, many dogs are not good candidates for general anesthesia due to age or other health issues that make it increasingly risky.

Dental cleanings are necessary for cleaning well above the gum line and for extracting broken teeth.

Roxy Dog Dental Care

Consider a Second Opinion If A Cleaning Is Suggested

Dental cleanings are vitally important for some dogs, and if your vet is recommending it, you should strongly consider it.

However, if you’ve been proactive in brushing your dog’s teeth and consistently good dental care, you may be able to delay the need for veterinary dental cleaning as long as there are no broken teeth or severe dental concerns.

When we took Roxy to a new vet after moving to Alaska, her first visit was just a low-pressure annual checkup so I could see how comfortable I felt with the vet.

It’s so important to build a good relationship with a well-educated, trustworthy vet! 

At the visit, the vet made a comment on how great her teeth looked and I mentioned that I brush them daily and give her plenty of raw bones and other dental care products. 

Later, once I paid and was handed the receipt, I went out to the car and looked at the notes on the bottom.

To my surprise, there was a note that said she had stage 2 periodontal disease!

I asked and they said well it wasn’t bad and she had no signs of any broken teeth or excessive plaque or tartar buildup, but they just wanted to document it. 

I was left feeling like they were only noting it to try to push a dental cleaning that wasn’t truly needed.

Sure enough, a few weeks later I received a postcard in the mail from the vet thanking me for choosing them and offering 10% off a dental cleaning.

Thankfully, at Roxy’s next appointment with a more highly reviewed vet, she had a close inspection done.

The vet advised that Roxy definitely did not need a cleaning anytime in the near future as her teeth and gums were in fantastic condition.

It’s been 4 years since that awkward vet visit and she still gets glowing remarks on the condition of her teeth at the new vet’s office!

What Are The Best Dog Teeth Cleaning Chews?

There are so many great options for dental cleaning chews for dogs. Our personal favorite is bully sticks! They’re all natural, easy to digest, and are fantastic for scraping your dog’s teeth clean. They are a bit on the pricy side, but I’ve found it’s well worth it to help minimize the cost from dental issues.

Dog dental care cost can range anywhere from $400 to over $1000, depending on the extent of their care needs. Anything I can do to help them have clean teeth while also giving them a treat they love, I’m all over it!

We are also huge fans of Greenies in this house. Rico is a picky boy and super selective on what snacks and food he eats, and Greenies are his love language. He picks them over literally ANYTHING. Which is definitely helpful for him, because his teeth have always been in really rough shape. He was found in a box on the side of the road as a puppy, and almost didn’t survive due to being so malnourished. He’s overall a healthy boy, but his teeth are almost powdered inside so we have to take extra precautions with him. He’s already had 3 (soon to be 4) teeth removed before he’s even 8 years old. 😩 Preventative maintenance is even more important to try and keep his teeth as long as possible!

Are you trying to get in the routine of brushing your dog’s teeth more often? Share how it’s going below!

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