Taking care of your dog’s teeth is more than just avoiding doggy breath. It should be part of their training, and toothbrushes and toothpaste should definitely be part of your dog gear. By keeping your dog’s chompers in good shape, you’re not only just preventing dental drama, but you’re also contributing to your furry friend’s overall happiness and longevity.
Why dental and gum health is important in dogs
Oral pain can keep your dog from eating properly. Imagine getting a flash of pain every time you chow down. Dogs with unhealthy gums and teeth will feel the same thing. You might notice a decline in their appetite.
Tartar buildup can lead to gingivitis. One of the goals in keeping your dog’s teeth clean is to prevent the accumulation of tartar. Tartar, besides looking yucky, leads to gum inflammation and infection. Worst case scenario, it ends with your dog losing their teeth.
Dental problems can lead to dangerous infections beyond their gum line. Your dog’s dental health extends beyond their teeth and gums. Periodontal diseases allow bacteria to leak into the bloodstream, which causes more serious complications in the heart, kidneys, and the liver.
Signs of dental and gum disease in dogs
We hate seeing our pup suffer, no matter the reason. A little detective work can save them from dental hassles!
Signs your dog has some form of dental and gum disease include:
Bad breath (all the time). Let’s be honest, doggy breath isn’t the greatest, even without health issues involved. It could be a piece of food stuck between their teeth, or a sign of a more serious problem, like mouth tumours.
Yellow/brown coloured teeth. Plaque and tartar buildup can pose a huge threat to our dogs. Make sure you’re regularly cleaning their teeth to keep this from happening.
Red or bleeding gums. When gums are healthy, they should appear pink and firm. When your dogs’ gums are red and swollen, they’re most likely inflamed from infection. Look out for any flecks of blood in your dog’s bowl or on their toys.
Difficulty eating or not wanting to eat. Even if we wanted to, we could never eat comfortably with a bad tooth involved. Dogs will feel the same way. They will eat less (or not eat at all), or get extremely picky (like only eating their soft treats) to avoid the pain.
Loose or missing teeth. This means your dog’s teeth are incredibly brittle. Make sure to take them to the vet to have any loose teeth properly removed, and reevaluate your dog’s diet to make sure they’re getting the right amount of minerals and nutrients like calcium.
Excessive drooling. Your dog’s body will produce an excessive amount of saliva to ease the discomfort caused by irritation and inflammation in their mouth.
Lethargy and general malaise. Remember that most dental problems in dogs are caused by infections, and their immune systems respond to that by running a fever. When your pup seems less active than usual, check if other signs of dental and oral disease are present, then take them to the vet.
How to keep your dog’s teeth clean
The solution to avoiding dental woes is simple—keep your dog’s teeth clean. After all, cleanliness is next to dogliness!
Keep their diet clean and healthy. Dental health starts with what goes into your dog’s mouth: their food. Avoid kibble. It contributes to that yucky plaque and tartar buildup. Look for specially formulated food that does the opposite.
And in the same way you tell children not to eat too many sweets to avoid cavities, keep sugary treats to an absolute minimum.
Get them some dental chews and chew toys. These come in different sizes and shapes. They have ridges and nubs that fit between your dog’s teeth, which encourages blood flow through the gums. Apart from being a great way to maintain your dog’s dental health, these also keep destructive behaviour at bay.
Make sure to get dental chews that actually work, not just starchy supermarket “dental” chews without any real benefit. Even a cheesecloth rag or toy works better than those.
Avoid giving them bones. It’s not that dogs don’t enjoy getting bones—they’ll chew on just about anything. But bones are not chew toys; they can actually fracture your dog’s teeth! It’s even more fatal when the bones splinter and cause internal bleeding.
As a general rule: if it’s a bone you can’t bend, break, or even leave a dent in it with your finger, it’s not for your dog.
Bring them to the vet for periodic cleaning. Your vet doubles as your dog’s dentist. In addition to your dog’s regular checkups, it doesn’t hurt to schedule a more thorough cleaning to maintain your dog’s dental health, and also as a way to check for any issues.
Brush their teeth. You can also brush your dog’s teeth at home, an addition to your bonding time! Brushing three times a week is the minimum requirement to get rid of plaque and keep tartar from building up.
Tips for brushing your dog’s teeth
When you really get down to it, brushing your dog’s teeth is a lot like brushing your own. The hardest part is getting them used to having the toothbrush and the toothpaste in their mouth.
Start them young. Start their toothbrushing training at an early age. This makes it easier for them to learn that having their mouth cleaned is no biggie.
Use toothpaste specially formulated for dogs. Dog toothpaste is a lot different than ours. For one, human toothpastes use xylitol and fluoride, which are toxic to dogs. Dog toothpastes, on the other hand, contain abrasive ingredients like calcium carbonate, baking soda, and salt. No need to worry about these—we have them in our toothpastes, too.
Dogs also aren’t into minty flavours. Their toothpastes use artificial sweeteners, artificial peanut butter, or meat “flavours”. The idea behind these is to make the toothpaste a bit more appealing for your dog.
Use dog toothbrushes. Angled brushes, soft bristles, multiple heads—there are a lot of dog toothbrushes out there, each with a unique way of making brushing your dog’s teeth easier. Use a finger brush if you’re just starting out to really get into those nooks and crannies of your pup's teeth.
You can also use baby toothbrushes and soft-bristled toothbrushes in general. Even gauze works as a handy alternative.
Get them used to the sensation of brushing their teeth. Slow and steady does the trick here. Start by stroking your dog’s cheek to get them used to your hand being by their mouth. After a few days of this exercise, introduce them to the toothpaste by letting them lick it off your finger.
Once they’ve shown signs of enjoying their toothpaste, gently run your finger through their gums until they’re used to it. Finally, slowly introduce the toothbrush, then the toothbrush with the toothpaste.
Always keep an eye out for those sneaky signs of dental trouble. A little dental care today means more playtime, more smiles (figuratively speaking), and a longer, healthier journey with your four-legged bestie.
Grab that toothbrush, toss them a dental treat or two, and let the good times—and healthy grins—roll!