Doggie Dental Hygiene 101

Wellbeing

As humans, we’re on top of our own dental hygiene by brushing & flossing daily and seeing the dentist for general check-ups on a regular basis. However when it comes to our furry friends, recent research suggests that perhaps pet parents aren’t paying as much attention to their dog’s oral health as they should be. More than 80% of dogs over three years of age are estimated to have an active dental disease which can have a material impact on their overall health and wellbeing.

There is some good news though – as dogs don’t typically eat sugary foods, they’re less prone to developing cavities than us humans. However, most dogs will experience a build-up of plaque, tartar or gingivitis by the time they’re about three years of age. These issues usually manifest in bad breath or yellowing teeth and if left unaddressed, they can lead to more serious health issues for your dog including kidney, liver or heart disease in extreme cases. While all this sounds pretty scary, you’ll be glad to know that getting on top of your dog’s dental hygiene needs does not have to be difficult! We provide some handy tips and tricks to help keep your dog’s mouth at its healthiest (trust us, the improvement in the smell of their breath alone will be worth it!)

Can feeding kibble clean your dog’s teeth?

Before we jump into the how-to of dog teeth brushing, we thought it was useful to first address a common misconception among dog owners that feeding kibble cleans their dog’s teeth. Think about it – would eating biscuits clean your own teeth!? While there are specifically formulated prescription dental diets that can assist with your dog’s dental health, there is no evidence-based research to support the idea that feeding dry dog food will help clean your dog’s teeth. In fact, commercial kibble is often made using fillers that breakdown into sugar in your dog’s body which can actually contribute to increased plaque and bacteria within your dog’s mouth.

A look into your dog’s mouth

Before we get into the nitty gritty of brushing your dog’s teeth, let’s look at what you can typically find in your dog’s mouth: 

  • Food particles: Very small remnants of your dog’s food. Most of these pieces will be washed away by their own saliva however brushing regularly will help this process along
  • Plaque: A sticky sometimes yellowish film that forms on your dog’s teeth. This is where the brushing really comes to the rescue – it’s impossible for your dog to be able to remove the plaque themselves and brushing daily goes a long way to removing plaque build up
  • Tartar: A build up of calcified plaque that can usually be found along the gum lines. While brushing can prevent build up of tartar, to remove it completely will require you to take your dog to a canine dentist. However, with regular brushing, you can greatly reduce the amount of visits (which your dog will thank you for!)

Dog teeth brushing 101

If you’ve never brushed your dog’s teeth before, it can seem a daunting task but if you start slowly and persist with it, it can soon become a fun activity that both you and your dog can enjoy!

We recommend these easy and simple steps to establish a fun and effective dental hygiene routine with your dog: 

  1. Start your dog on a brushing routine slowly by introducing each element gradually. Start by touching your dogs face in the mouth area and rewarding them for letting you touch their mouth area and then gradually their gums and teeth with your fingers while rewarding & praising them.

  2. Once your dog is comfortable with you touching their teeth, slowly introduce a toothbrush with toothpaste on it. Make sure to always use a canine toothpaste as most human toothpaste contains a high concentration of fluoride which can harm your dog. Toothpaste made for dogs usually also come in fun flavours such as peanut butter, chicken or beef which will increase your dog’s willingness to let you brush their teeth.  You can use a normal human toothbrush or there are toothbrushes made specifically for dogs (including finger toothbrushes which can be easier to start with). Start with simple brush strokes for a period of 1-2 weeks until your dog is very comfortable with the process.

  3. Once your dog is comfortable with the idea of a toothbrush & paste in their mouth, use your fingers to pull your dog’s gums away from their teeth and work slowly around your dog’s mouth. Brush along the gum line at a 45 degree angle using a circular motion making sure to cover all of your dog’s teeth (including the large molars located at the back of their mouth).

All it takes is a couple of minutes of brushing a day to drastically improve your dog’s dental hygiene. Remember, it’s also never too late to start brushing your dog’s teeth – even senior dogs can benefit greatly from having their teeth brushed daily!

Know when to get help

Once established, your dog’s daily dental routine can be easily managed at home. However, at some point in their life, most dogs will require a veterinary dental treatment which often involves a general anaesthetic, a full dental examination and a professional clean. For this reason, it’s helpful to always look inside your dog’s mouth on a weekly basis so you can keep an eye out for any serious symptoms. A list of serious signs to look out for that may require you to take your dog to the vet include:

  • Increasingly worsening breath
  • Swollen, painful or bleeding gums
  • Tartar build up along the gum line which isn’t diminishing with daily brushing
  • Change in your dog’s chewing habits (for example, showing a preference to chew on one side over another)
  • Excessive drooling
  • Broken or missing teeth
  • Bumps or growths inside the mouth 

When it comes to our dogs we’re willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that our furry friends are living their healthiest life – from feeding premium dog food, making sure they get enough exercise and taking them to annual preventative veterinary check-ups – we spend a lot of time and money on their health and wellbeing. With oral hygiene playing such a key role in your dog’s overall health, it’s important to start your dog on a dental hygiene routine today. Through regular brushing (even a few times a week to begin with) you can make a remarkable difference to your dog’s overall health!

About the author

Andrew is a certified canine nutritionist with a passion for helping all dogs live longer, healthier and happier lives through proper nutrition, care and owner education. Currently a doting Dad to Daisy, a loveable Golden Retriever. Over the years he has loved and cared for Australian Terriers, Border Collies and a particularly sweet Maltese Shih-Tzu.