Maintaining Dog Dental Health
First, we want to make something perfectly clear. The Sacramento Dentistry Group is a dental practice for humans, and only humans. We are not a doggie dentist, leaving that for our veterinarian colleagues.
Nevertheless, many of us at the Sacramento Dentistry Group have dogs as pets and love them very much, so we are interested in their dental issues, possibly more so than the average pet owner. Although a dog’s mouth is quite different from a human mouth, good oral hygiene is essential for optimum health in dogs and people alike. Dental decay and gum disease in dogs causes more problems than just doggie breath. It leads to tooth loss, pain, discomfort and eating problems. Poor dental health in dogs is even linked to heart problems, much like in humans.
Caring for Canine Teeth
If you have a puppy, or a young dog, you are in the best position for ensuring that they keep those new teeth white, healthy and intact for their whole life. When a dog is young, it’s easy to establish brushing and cleaning habits. Through early repetition, they become perfectly normal to your pet, just like fur brushing and paw wiping. But do not discount dental care for older dogs! They may surprise you by learning to love the attention.
The best way to teach a young or old dog about toothbrushing is to make the initial goal not brushing the teeth, but learning to love the toothbrush. Pet supply stores sell dog toothbrushes and finger brushes, and tubes of meat or peanut butter-flavored toothpaste. If this isn’t available, an old toothbrush and some wet dog food will do. Never use human toothpaste on your canine, as some of the ingredients are toxic to dogs!
Put a little dog toothpaste or wet dog food on the brush and let the dog lick it off. They quickly come to love that toothbrush! Add in the slightest little brushing motion a bit at a time, without overwhelming the dog. It’s better to take the introduction slowly, rather than make your dog afraid of the process by being aggressive. With each session, turn licking-the-toothbrush into an actual brushing-the teeth session. Praise the dog, pet the dog, and make this a happy part of the day. As with humans, the goal is to brush each tooth surface, front and back, and around the gum line.
How often should this be done? If your dog’s vet asks you this and you say you do it every day, he or she will smile as big as our dentists do when you say you floss every day. But because some dogs really don’t like it, doing the best you can is better than doing nothing. Stinky breath isn’t an inevitable part of life for your pet, so any efforts you make are commendable. If you just can’t seem to teach your dog this new trick, there are some other options to daily brushing.
Alternatives to Canine Brushing
The dental area in your local pet supply store is a good place to look for alternatives. Pet dental wipes are a more up-close-and-personal way to remove the plaque off your pet’s teeth, and may be better for dogs afraid of the toothbrush. There are also enzymatic drops to put in your dog’s water that help cut back on plaque, and dental chews and toys designed to clean their teeth. Beware of using hard bones that may break a tooth! Only use items approved by veterinarians.
Lastly, consider periodically getting your dog’s teeth cleaned at the vet’s office. Because “open wide” is not on the list of typical dog commands, dogs (and cats) are usually anesthetized to give the vet complete access to the teeth, without risk of feeling their bite. Just like people, a professional cleaning of the teeth provides a thorough examination of the mouth and greatly reduces the risk of gum disease and tooth decay.
At a bare minimum, make sure that an examination of your pet’s teeth is part of its next veterinary checkup. Good dental care for your dog ensures not just prettier teeth and better smelling breath, but a longer, healthier life too. Although here at the Sacramento Dentistry Group we only work on humans, young and old, we think your whole family, pets included, should have the healthiest smiles on your street.