February is Dental Health Month! That makes it a great time to talk about the one aspect of dog hygiene that frequently gets ignored: tooth brushing!
Dogs experience a lot of the world through chewing, so the health of their mouths is very important. The idea of brushing your dog’s teeth can seem very intimidating. Especially if you have an older dog who might be a little resistant to a brush in his mouth. The trick is to out-stubborn your dog. With the right approach, and a ton of patience, you can get your dog on a healthy tooth brushing routine.
Don’t worry if you aren’t sure how to get started. We’re here to help! We’ve broken down introducing your dog to tooth brushing into a few easy steps, and we’ve included tips on how to select the right dental products for your dog. Ready to learn how to brush your dog’s teeth? Let’s get brushing!
Why Do You Need To Brush Your Dog’s Teeth?
Since dogs are constantly chewing, aren’t they naturally cleaning their teeth? Well, not exactly. Chewing can help keep the teeth clean, and the right treats and toys are definitely part of a good dental routine. Unfortunately, chewing doesn't reach the food particles that get down below the gum line.
Poor dental care can lead to plaque build-up and eventually gum disease. Gum disease is unfortunately very common in dogs, with many of them developing it before age 3.
It is not uncommon for an infection from the teeth to go systemic. This means, the bacteria from the mouth can travel to other parts of the body. Bacteria gain access through inflamed or damaged gum and into the blood stream. And unfortunately, bacteria from the mouth can cause serious problems in the liver, kidneys, and heart. Poor dental hygiene is one of the leading causes of serious illness in older dogs and cats.
Getting Started With Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth
Get A Dog-Friendly Toothbrush
The dog tooth care section is definitely overwhelming. There's a huge variety of toothbrushes for dogs, and you want to find the best one for your dog’s mouth.
If you have just started your dog on a tooth brushing regimen, a finger brush may be a good place to start. It slides over the finger and is good for any size dog. A finger brush is a great starter brush since initially, your dog may be more comfortable with you touching his teeth with a finger instead of a toothbrush.
Double-sided brushes can reach the top and bottom row of teeth, and double-ended brushes cover a large surface area with one end and can get in the nooks and crannies with the other.
If possible, always opt for a toothbrush designed for dogs. If there are no other options, a brush for babies is a good substitute because of the small head and soft bristles. Do not use an adult toothbrush on your dog. The bristles are too hard for their sensitive gums.
Selecting A Dog-Friendly Toothpaste
It’s very important to get your dog a toothpaste formulated just for them. We might not enjoy chicken flavored toothpaste, but toothpaste that tastes good can seem like a treat and encourage your dog to let you brush her teeth.
Dog toothpastes don’t just have appealing flavors, they really do serve the same purpose as human toothpaste with enzymes to help prevent plaque and tartar build-up. Thankfully, you won’t have to worry about rinsing. Dog toothpaste does not foam and is meant to be safe for dogs to swallow.
**Never use human toothpaste on your dog. Many human versions contain the additive xylitol, which can be highly toxic to dogs.
Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth
Start slowly and have a lot of patience. Your dog might be resistant at first. Use praise and positive reinforcement to encourage your dog to allow you to brush his teeth.
1) Start by getting your dog used to you touching his mouth. The first step is getting him to let you lift his lip. As he gets more comfortable with this, start running a finger along his teeth and gums.
Getting your dog used to the initial mouth handling will be the most difficult part of this process. Puppies will take to this more quickly than an older dog. Just be patient. Even if it takes a few weeks for your dog to get used to you handling his mouth, it will be worth it in the end.
2) Start introducing the toothbrush or finger brush. Let them sniff it and get acquainted with it. As they get used to it, try holding the brush while lifting their lip.
Work on getting your dog to allow you to place the brush on their teeth. As they get comfortable, place the brush in different areas of their mouth.
Be sure to praise your dog every time they allow this. It’s okay to reward your dog with treats as well. You want your dog to associate the toothbrush with pleasant things. Positive reinforcement needs to be used every step of the way.
3) Let your dog try the toothpaste. Put a tiny dab on your finger and allow her to lick it off.
This is where a finger brush can come in handy. If you have worked on handling your dog’s mouth, you can see if she’ll allow you to touch her teeth with toothpaste on your finger. Try this a few times, then see about introducing the handled brush.
4) Once your dog is comfortable with it, work on gently scrubbing the outside of her teeth starting from the gumline of the top row and moving down, then moving to the bottom row and moving up.
You only need to clean the outsides of your dog’s teeth, this is where the majority of plaque build-up occurs.
Once your dog has accepted that toothbrushing is part of her routine, brush her teeth for thirty seconds per side. Recommendations for frequency span from twice a day to 3 times a week. Get into a routine that you and your dog can maintain.
If a few times a week is more realistic than twice a day, you can maintain your dog’s clean teeth with healthy chews. Slow dried, natural chews like Peen Knots are helpful for scraping plaque below the gumline. They also contain nutrients that promote strong healthy teeth.
Do you have your own tricks for brushing your dog’s teeth? Don’t forget to share them in the comments!