To answer the question, “Why is it important to clean my dog’s teeth?” ask yourself another question: “Why is it important to clean my teeth?” It helps keep our teeth strong and our mouths healthy, of course. But it contributes to overall wellness (gum disease, for example, is linked to a higher risk of heart disease) and quality of life. This is why we brush our teeth and head to the dentist twice a year. And this is exactly why it is important to do the same for your dog.
But, you may think, dogs lived literally thousands of years without professional teeth cleanings or toothbrushes. True! So did our human ancestors. Keep in mind, though, that both people and animals did not enjoy as long of a lifespan as we do today. Oral health is one big reason why.
Routine care for dog’s teeth helps:
- Prevent gum disease
- Prevent tooth loss (and loss of nutrition)
- Chronic pain
- Prevents buildup of tartar and plaque
- Identify trauma (e.g. broken teeth, abscessed teeth)
- Identify orthodontic issues
- Prevent organ damage (bacteria from plaque can spread to the liver, kidneys, and heart via the bloodstream)
- Prevent dental disease from worsening (many dogs have dental disease by age three; routine care can help it from becoming worse and affecting oral and overall health)
- Prevent bad breath (that’s reason enough on its own! Nothing ruins Netflix and Cuddle faster than foul breath)
Good oral health encompasses two key components: at-home care and routine dental care from your vet.
DIY Teeth Cleaning for Your Dog
Your pet doesn’t necessarily want or need minty fresh breath, so pick up some dog-specific toothpaste. These come in flavors like chicken, beef, and peanut butter. There are also toothbrushes built just for your pup. Many options fit over your fingertip, which may make the process easier.
If you haven’t brushed your dog’s teeth before, make sure he is calm and relaxed. Kneel or sit in front of your dog or just off to the side, and start by rubbing your finger along his upper gums and teeth. If he’s fine with this, have him taste the toothpaste. If it’s going well so far, lift his upper lip and angle the bristles of the brush at about a 45-degree angle. Use a circular motion to address the plaque.
If, at any step, your dog is not comfortable, stop. It may take several sessions at each stage (or at least initially) before he is calm and ready to brush. That’s fine! Once it’s a go, aim to work your way up to every day. If you can only manage three days a week, that is much more beneficial than zero days a week.
To supplement or to replace brushing until your dog is ready, you can also find dog-specific tooth wipes. They don’t get into the nooks and crannies as well as a brush, but again, they are much more beneficial than doing nothing.
Another option is to stock up on some dental chews and treats. Find those with teeth-cleaning properties. These won’t replace brushing or professional dental checkups, but they can help keep plaque in check. A big, beef marrow bone, for example, acts as a great treat and a good dental aid!
Professional Teeth Cleaning for Your Dog
Once a year (or more if you have an older pet), it is important to have your vet conduct a thorough cleaning and examination. This is often done under anesthesia for several reasons:
- It allows your vet to effectively clean away plaque and tartar and to address the gum line, which may not be possible with a wiggly, awake dog
- It enables your vet to get a full picture of what’s going on inside your dog’s mouth
- It is less stressful and far more comfortable for your pet
- It negates the risk of inadvertent injuries
- It is easier to take x-rays
Your vet will be able to identify any issues that may impact your dog’s health (e.g. abscessed teeth, gum disease, etc.) and to offer effective treatment. The risks associated with anesthesia are very low and adverse reactions are uncommon. Anesthesia-free options may be available, so speak with your vet about the best course of action for your dog.
Have any questions about cleaning your dog’s teeth? Want to schedule an appointment to get your best friend’s oral health in order? Contact Avery Creek Pet Hospital today. We are happy to help!