The Importance of Canine Dental Care for the Longevity of Your Best Friend
One of the most important and most preventable diseases for your dog is dental disease. Periodontal or gum disease has become the number one health problem for both dogs and cats. It is estimated that by the age of 3 80% of dogs will show significant signs of oral disease.
Dental disease is very painful!! This pain can even lead to a change in behavior and increase the likelihood of bites and aggression.
Common Signs of Dental Disease
- Bad breath
- Build up of yellow deposits on the teeth by the gums
- Red swollen or bleeding gums
- Trouble eating and obvious pain when chewing hard objects
- Increased salivation
However, oral disease is almost completely preventable and avoidable!
Dental disease can lead to heart, liver and kidney disease. The infection from your dog’s mouth courses through his veins and can set up shop in the valves of the heart and in other organs of his body.
There was a veterinary study done on Labrador Retrievers that found with regular brushing a dog’s life could be extended by up to 3 years! 3 YEARS can you imagine that? I would do anything to get an extra 3 years of life with my dogs!
What Can You Do?
- Chew treats that you can get from your vet that are impregnated with chlorhexidine and or stannous fluoride to help prevent and treat oral disease
- Provide a nutritious diet
- Yearly and sometimes biannual dental checkups with your vet
- Regular brushing at home
Canned and soft dog food can often contribute to the buildup of tartar. Dry dog food provides a mild abrasive action on the teeth therefore removing some of the bacterial plaque that can harden into tartar.
Just like with children to help them evade cavities, avoid giving your dog sweets! Table scraps can also contribute to plaque and tartar build up.
Dogs need to have their teeth brushed, daily, to prevent the buildup of plaque that can lead to serious dental disease. Yes, I said DAILY!
You don’t know how often as a vet tech I have heard that the dog gets his teeth brushed while he is at the groomer once a month. Can you imagine the shape YOUR teeth would be in if you brushed your teeth monthly or less?
People brush their teeth twice a day for a minute or two at a time. Your dog’s teeth should get at least daily attention!
I put my dog’s toothbrush near mine for easy access each morning.
Doggy toothpaste that you can get only from your veterinarian (don’t get it at your local pet store or grocery store it is not the same quality) has chlorhexidine, stannous fluoride, and an enzyme that helps break down tartar. Your dog only needs a couple of swipes over his teeth to be very, very effective!
It is easiest to teach a new pup to tolerate and even LOVE having his teeth brushed, but you can even teach an older dog to enjoy it!
Always make sure to praise him profusely through the process and set aside a special treat (on the sink) for when you are finished to make it even more rewarding!
Start by squeezing a tiny bit of dog toothpaste onto the tip or your finger and letting your dog lick it off. This helps him get use to the flavor and reassures him that this is going to be fun and yummy! After you are done give him a special treat!
DO NOT use human toothpaste, not only can it make your dog sick when swallowed it can be toxic if he swallows too much!
Now squeeze a bit of toothpaste onto your finger and gently rub it over your gets gums and one or two teeth. Do not make this an ordeal by trying to access his whole mouth, just wiggle a finger or two into his mouth and around his teeth and gums. End with a wonderful treat! Once he is eagerly accepting this step it is time to move on to step 3.
Do not risk a bite. If your dog is adamant about not having his mouth manipulated it is not worth being bitten by him. Your vet can provide you with chew treats and water additives that can help you in this situation. But, nothing is as good at preventing dental disease as regular tooth brushing.
Begin by adding a finger toothbrush, that you can get from your vet or your local pet retail store or squeezing a bit of toothpaste on a small piece of gauze and rub in a circular motion.
I gently wrap one hand around my dog’s muzzle to hold it still and prevent it from opening large enough to bite on the toothbrush or my finger as I massage the toothpaste around. As always I end with a special treat I have set to the side on the sink!
You may now begin adding a toothbrush to this equation. You can use an ultra soft toothbrush, child’s toothbrush, or even eventually a spin brush!
Gently hold your dog’s muzzle as you swipe some toothbrush on in a circular motion over his teeth. Unlike human tooth brushing, the goal is not in the amount of time spent brushing the goal is to get the toothpaste on the teeth use some abrasive motion to break down tartar and leave the enzyme on to do its job.
Make this fun and rewarding and as always end with a special treat!
Eventually, I add a spin brush and lightly brush throughout my dog’s mouth at least once daily.
My dogs LOVE to have their teeth brushed because they love the flavor and the treat they get afterward. As soon as I jump out of the shower each morning, I have three chins sitting on the sink awaiting their “teeth time”.
This positive reinforcement helps remind me to get their teeth brushed and it keeps me from having to worry about the serious effects of dental disease.
Tooth brushing is not a guarantee that my dog’s wont eventually need the help of anesthesia and a veterinary dental cleaning, but it definitely helps them go longer in between visits! I believe that genetics play a role but brushing helps ward off the tooth fairy! For example my 11 year old dog has only had ONE veterinary tooth cleaning his entire life after they did another procedure, but my 8 year old dog had a dental cleaning about every 2 years once he passed the age of 4. Although they both got equal brushing, my 11 year old dog just has better dental genetics than my 8 year old dog did!
Brushing their teeth is also important to our relationship, because it gets them use to me touching and manipulating them in a way that they are not use to in the beginning. It also ensures I can monitor their gums and tartar for signs of dental disease and I can keep an eye out for broken or fractured teeth.
Broken or fractured teeth can not only be extremely painful, this can also lead to abscesses, swollen faces, fever and a refusal to eat.
It is essential to me to be able to touch my dog’s mouths, feet, ears and every other body part. This builds a good strong relationship based in trust! I would continue this brushing and training if this was the ONLY benefit I got out of it, but thankfully I reap the benefits of a healthier happier pet as well!
So go out and get a toothbrush and some toothpaste from your vet and set them next to your toothbrush so that you get into the habit of brushing your dog’s teeth daily! The chance at an extra 3 years of life is worth it!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.