Your furry friend may be a beloved member of the family, but unless you pay attention to your dog’s dental hygiene it won’t take long before they’re getting a bit smelly. Your canine pal can’t pick up a toothbrush and look after his teeth himself, so as his owner, it’s down to you to take on the task.
Looking after your dog’s teeth isn’t just important to avoid the dreaded doggy breath. It’s also essential for their health. The good news is that it’s surprisingly easy; all it takes is a quick brush on a regular basis.
But before you head off to the bathroom for your tube of Colgate, there are a few things you should know. Here’s our comprehensive guide on how to brush a dog’s teeth, including some top tips to make the task simpler.
About Dog’s Teeth
According to one study, fewer than one in ten owners brush their dog’s teeth every day. Could you imagine how icky your teeth might feel if they were never brushed frequently? It turns out that your dog’s teeth aren’t much different!
In the past, dogs losing teeth may have been considered a natural part of the ageing process, but vets now know differently. Just like humans, if a dog’s teeth are properly taken care of there’s no need for them to fall out.
Did you know that your dog had milk teeth when he was a pup, similarly to a human child? Dogs start with 28 milk teeth and these increase to 42 adult teeth. The internal structure of their teeth is similar to humans too, apart from the tooth roots which in dogs are much longer.
However, the size and overall shape of dogs’ teeth are very different. You’ve probably noticed their very large and pointy canines; these long teeth are used to grab, tear and lift.
At the back of a dog’s mouth, you’ll find carnassial teeth – humans don’t have these. Whereas our teeth grind against each other to smash up food, a dog’s back teeth have a slicing action with sharp edges that shear against each other. This means they can’t grind and pulverise food in the same way that humans can but can cut and carve more efficiently.
Problems You Might Encounter
One problem you are unlikely to encounter in your pooch is cavities. These are normally caused by sugars in food and bacteria which thrive well on a flat surface. Dogs don’t tend to have the type of bacteria necessary nor do they consume a high-sugar diet so this is one problem that they usually avoid.
However, that doesn’t mean they’re in the doggy clear. One source suggests that more than three-quarters of canines have gum disease by their third birthday. Gum problems are one of the biggest issues that dogs have to deal with and this can lead to periodontal disease and your pets teeth falling out.
Failure to deal with periodontal disease carries the risk of serious complications, including heart or kidney disease.
Look out for any of the following as they can be signs of gum or tooth problems in dogs:
- Thick saliva
- Bright red gums
- Smelly breath
- Swelling around the face
- Only eating on one side
- Dropping food
- Bleeding from the mouth or gums – look out for drops in the water bowl
- Rubbing their face on the ground or with paws
Dogs prefer to hide the fact they’re in pain, so you’ll need to use your sleuthing skills to spot any problems.
While it’s imperative to look after the teeth of any dog, some breeds have particular problems. These include:
- Pugs, bulldogs, Shih Tzus, Boston Terriers and other short-muzzled breeds suffer from overcrowding. This causes plaque to build up which leads to gum disease and tooth loss.
- Yorkshire terriers and Maltese tend to keep their baby teeth and also catch hair in their mouth. This leads to plaque and tooth decay. Chihuahuas, toy poodles and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel have similar issues.
- Shetland Sheepdogs have a long and narrow muzzle which causes many teeth to rotate. With frequent underbites and overbites, their gum line can be very painful.
- Greyhounds and whippets have a genetic tendency towards tooth enamel erosion, increasing the risk of infections. They’re also more likely to suffer from periodontal disease at an early age.
If you have any of the above breeds, you’ll need to keep an extra-close eye on their teeth.
How to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth
When you begin brushing your pooch’s teeth, you might have to adopt a slow and gradual approach. Diving right in with a dog toothbrush could end in disaster so take as long as you need at each stage:
- Kneel or sit next to your dog, don’t stand over them as it could seem threatening. Sitting to the side, gently hold their muzzle while lifting the upper lip. Rub your finger gently over their teeth and gums.
- Once you’re able to complete Stage 1 without your four-legged friend getting anxious, it’s time to introduce the toothbrush. You’ll need a canine toothbrush and a canine toothpaste for this. Use the toothbrush and toothpaste together, angle the bristles to 45 degrees. This is the best position to eliminate plaque and massage the gum.
- When your dog is tolerating the sensation of the toothbrush in their mouth, use gentle circles to clean the top and bottom sets of teeth. Don’t press too hard. You may see some slight bleeding at first but if this continues with regular brushing or is heavy, consult a vet.
- Aim to clean your dog’s teeth for two minutes every day. Daily brushing can make all the difference to your dogs dental care – and even bad breath.
It’s essential not to rush any of the above steps and to lavish your dog with encouragement and praise. If they resist or seem uncomfortable, stop and try again at another time.
Hints and Tips
There are a few things you can do to improve the chances of success:
- Let your dog lick the toothpaste for a day or two first – this will allow the taste and texture to become familiar. If they don’t like one, try another – there are many different flavours to pick from.
- Don’t worry about the inside of the teeth. The coarse tongue does an excellent job of cleaning there
- Make sure you have the right size canine brush. Don’t try cramming a long handle into a tiny mouth!
- Give them a treat after every brushing; they’ll soon learn to associate having their teeth brushed with a treat! You can find lots of teeth-friendly treats for dogs so you don’t undo your hard work!
- Don’t use human toothpaste for dog tooth brushing. People tend to use a dog toothpaste or baking soda paste. Check the guidelines before use.
There’s no time like the present to look after your dog’s dental hygiene. Brushing their teeth regularly will make them feel more comfortable in the long-term and you’ll notice an immediate difference in their breath too! That’s what we call a win-win…