We brush our own teeth daily, but sometimes we forget our dogs need regular tooth cleaning too. Just like humans, poor dental hygiene can lead to health problems and tooth decay in our furry friends.
According to research, by the time your dog is three years old there is already an 80% chance that he already has some gum problems due to plaque and tartar buildup. Typical signs are redness or bleeding gums, bad breath, and loose teeth. Even annual or semi-annual professional cleanings at your vet's office may not be enough to prevent tooth problems in your dog. Regular tooth cleaning at home needs to be part of your dog's grooming program. (It’s not as hard as you think, honestly!)
Dog Tooth Cleaning at Home
You can prevent some gum or tooth problems by regularly brushing your dog's teeth at home. Dog toothpaste comes in great flavors like beef and poultry. Once you get your dog accustomed to feel of the toothbrush and having his mouth handled, he may actually learn to enjoy the brushing process.
My dog LOVES to have her teeth brushed-—no kidding! Our friends, especially their kids, are quite entertained when they watch the process. As soon as she sees me pull her toothbrush and dog toothpaste out of the cupboard, she gets excited. I sit on the couch, she gets “in position" between my knees and puts her head on my knee.
She loves the taste of both the beef and poultry-flavored dog toothpastes. Unlike human toothpaste, dog toothpaste is meant to be swallowed. She likes it so much that we go through a lot of toothpaste. She licks it as I brush, so I need a dollop for each side of her mouth. It still beats the cost of remedial care if she had tooth and gum disease from lack of canine dental care.
OK, So How Do You Get a Reluctant Dog to Accept Tooth Brushing?
We were lucky in that we started getting our dog accustomed to tooth cleaning when she was a puppy. Here are some tips on how we got her used to tooth cleaning. It is not difficult; it just takes a little time and patience. It will work with adult dogs as well as puppies.
- Dog toothpaste (beef or poultry flavored works best)
- Dog toothbrush (Be sure to get one specially for dogs with soft bristles. We like the kind with a curved handle; it is easier to reach the back teeth)
- Dental pads (if desired)
- Lots of treats to start
1. Get your dog used to having his mouth handled. Gently hold his muzzle with one hand and stroke it with the other hand. Lift his upper lip to expose his teeth. Give him a tasty treat as a reward. Repeat this procedure for several days until your dog feels comfortable with your hands near his mouth.
2. Get your dog used to the toothpaste. Try putting a dab on your finger and touching it to your dog's teeth and gums. If your dog balks at this, try dipping your finger in peanut butter or something else yummy to dogs like beef or chicken broth, for the first few tries. Then switch to the dog toothpaste once he seems comfortable. I recommend the beef or poultry flavor toothpaste versus mint flavored. Dogs seem to like them better than mint. Praise your dog, telling him what a good boy he is. Repeat daily for the next two or three days.
3. Get your dog used to tooth cleaning. Using plain gauze or a piece of soft cloth wrapped around your finger, or a dental pad or sponge, dab on some dog toothpaste and gently wipe your dog's teeth and gums using a circular motion. Praise your dog for being good. Repeat this process for the next few days.
4. Ready for real tooth brushing. Put some toothpaste on your dog's toothbrush. Hold his muzzle gently and with a finger lift his lip on one side. Gently brush his teeth using a circular motion, and go all the way to the gum line. Be sure to get his back teeth too, then add a little more toothpaste if needed and go on to the other side.
Try to make your dog's tooth cleaning a daily habit. If you can't manage to do it daily, try every other day. It only takes a couple of minutes, you just have to get in the habit of doing it.
Last, REMEMBER TO MAKE IT FUN and REWARD YOUR DOG. With a little time and patience, you will soon find your dog, if not exactly anticipating the tooth cleaning, at least cooperating. His clean teeth and fresher breath will be worth the effort.
Valerie Goettsch is web master of My Favorite Dog, a website featuring dozens of articles and information on where to find the best of everything for your dog, from flea meds to beds, training and designer dog clothes.