By Leah Kinney, RDH, MS
Did you know that 85% of dogs over the age of 4 have periodontal disease? Oral health is an important part of your dog’s overall health, and untreated dental disease can cause discomfort and pain, as well as permanent damage and loss of teeth and gum tissue. The good news is that with regular care, dental disease in dogs is completely preventable! Follow these guidelines to give your pup healthy teeth and gums throughout their life.
First things first – Brush!
The first step toward helping your dog achieve and maintain oral health is to brush their teeth. Be sure to use a canine toothbrush and toothpaste. Do NOT use human toothpaste, which can be harmful to dogs. Brush your dog’s teeth by angling the bristles at approximately a 45-degree angle toward the gumline. For a visual, check out this how-to video.
A few tips
- Just like our human children, dogs need to be gently taught how to cooperate with tooth brushing. Increase brushing time gradually. Daily brushing is ideal, but unrealistic –aim for a couple times a week.
- If this is your first time brushing your dog’s teeth, start with your finger and some peanut butter. Once your pup gets used to this, you will be able to transition to a toothbrush and toothpaste.
- Brush your dog’s teeth after a nice, long walk. Your pup will sit better for you, and may even be more interested in the toothpaste “treat” after a good workout.
- In between brushing, make sure your dog gets lots of pooch-friendly cleansing fruits and veggies mixed into their food. Examples include apples, cucumbers, bell peppers or watermelon. Your pup will love the variety of flavors and the crunchy foods will help clean the teeth naturally.
- Speak soothingly and reward with tooth-friendly treats (my dog loves carrots!) each time you attempt brushing – this is important even when brushing doesn’t go well.
- Chew toys can help keep your dog’s teeth clean, but be careful – hard objects like bones can actually do more damage than good. Talk with your vet about recommendations.
Professional teeth cleanings at the vet
Even with good home care, plaque and tartar do build up, which makes professional cleanings essential. Before the cleaning takes place, your vet may run pre-cleaning lab work to ensure that your dog is healthy enough to be put under general anesthesia, which is the only way to safely clean canine teeth. Your vet may also take X-rays to evaluate the teeth for dental decay, bone loss, and other issues. During the dental cleaning, your pup’s teeth will be cleaned and polished with professional equipment that removes tartar and plaque buildup. If disease is present, the vet may perform restorative work on the teeth, or may refer you to a specialist for further evaluation and/or treatment.
Stay alert and check in regularly
Teeth should be checked yearly at your annual vet exam, but it is important that pet parents observe their dog’s teeth and surrounding tissues regularly, so that any oral health concerns are addressed quickly. Take your dog in to see the vet if they show signs of any of the following potential indications of dental concerns:
- Bad breath
- Change in eating or chewing habits
- Pawing at face or mouth
- Excessive drooling
- Red, swollen or bleeding gums
- Yellowish/brown tartar build-up along the gumline
- Discolored, broken, missing or crooked teeth
- Bumps or growths in the mouth
Leah Kinney is a dental hygienist and the Director of Clinical Business Development at Delta Dental of Minnesota. In her current role, Leah works to educate and empower Minnesotans to take control of their dental hygiene through proper homecare and regular check-ups with their dentist. Leah received her dental hygiene and undergraduate degrees from Argosy University in Eagan, MN and also holds a master’s degree in legal studies from Kaplan University.