How Can I Improve My Dog’s Dental Health?

Jan 30 , 2021

How Can I Improve My Dog’s Dental Health?

This is probably the number one question that your vet wants you to ask him or her. Why is this?

Well according to the Animal Medical Center in New York “more than 50% of cats and 85% of dogs over the age of three have dental problems that require professional treatment.” They say that dental disease is the most common disease in dogs and cats but that many pet owners don’t realize it.

They also want you to know that the consequences of leaving dental disease untreated include:

  • oral pain and infection
  • loss of teeth
  • potential infection to major body organs
  • diminished quality of life

These are alarming facts. And I think we are all aware that we need to take good care of our pet’s teeth, so why is this one of the hardest things to do for doggie moms and dads?

Well first of all most of our pets hate having their mouths messed with and put up a fight. And unless we build it into our daily routine, it’s hard to remember to do it. We lead such busy lives that after we’ve cleaned our teeth at night all we want to do is climb into bed! It’s just the reality for most of us.

Small dog carried by vet tech – Pet Dental Health Month 2021

Yes, the vet can clean our dog’s teeth but that comes at a cost. Not just monetarily, but also having to leave our babies with them for the day and know they are under anesthesia. I’m a wreck until I get the call that they’re all done and that they’re ok.

If we did make the effort to clean our pet’s teeth, or find alternate ways to get them clean, we can reduce the number of times we have to deal with that.

Pet Dental Health Month 2021

With that in mind, here we are in February which is always designated Pet Dental Health Month. It’s the perfect time to take our little ones to the vet to get their dental health checked out. Most vets run some kind of special deal for dental work during the month, making it another great time to go.

If your dog’s teeth are covered in plaque and tartar it’s important to get them professionally cleaned as soon as possible. It can even potentially save their life. If the teeth look good, it’s a great time to start taking care of them at home if you aren’t doing so already.

This dog mom is going to do just that. Two of my dogs are young and have good-looking teeth. The other is nine and he’s going in for his dental cleaning as he has lots of build-up.

Then my mission is to keep all their teeth clean by building a routine. None of them like me looking into their mouth, let alone cleaning their teeth, so let’s look at some ways of getting the job done.

Doggie Dental Care

When I called to make the appointment for Ziggy to get his teeth cleaned I spoke to the tech who cleans them, Tracy Baldwin at Bayside Hospital for Animals in Fort Walton Beach, FL, and asked her how can I improve my dog’s dental health. She has a list of dental dos and don’ts and this is what she said:

Dos

  • Always my number one piece of advice for pet parents is to get them to try to brush their dog’s teeth on daily basis. If this is possible it will drastically cut down the amount of plaque and tartar on the teeth and delay the need for any kind of professional cleaning.

  • You can buy small brushes designed for dogs with short handles so they don’t look as intimidating going into the mouth. I love those. The bristles are also soft. If I’m asked how to clean dog teeth without brushing, I recommend trying some coarse gauze wrapped around your finger and letting your finger be the brush. You can also get plastic finger caps to do this.

  • Special dental wipes can do the same job. Choose ones that contain hexametaphosphate, a product that research has shown to decrease tartar build-up on teeth.

On the topic of dog teeth cleaning products I’m adding here that I have had great success with oral sprays. They come in small bottles and I tried a couple of different ones on my older dog Pippin. I simply spritzed the liquid into his mouth, one or two squirts and it was over and done with.

After using the products for a few months I took Pippin in for his yearly exam. The vet saw the plaque and tartar on his teeth but when he put some gauze on it, it simply fell off. Even he was surprised. He told me that if brushing wasn’t possible then to keep up with the spraying. I think it’s a great tip.

Click here to see some of the possible sprays and/or wipes you can use. The two brands that I used and loved are TropiClean and PetzLife.

OK, back to Tracy:

  • ALWAYS use doggie toothpaste. Period. We get calls from clients who say “I used human toothpaste on my dog” and they are concerned it could harm them. They are right. Dogs should not be exposed to fluoride and some human toothpaste contains xylitol to sweeten it – xylitol can kill dogs. Human toothpaste must be avoided at all costs. A lot of the special dog toothpaste comes in flavors such as chicken or peanut butter so this can often interest the dog and keep his mind off the brushing or rubbing.

  • Doggie Dental Care – raw butcher bones can help clean teeth naturally
    If brushing or finger rubbing is just not possible, however, I recommend the raw butcher cow bones that you can buy from supermarkets like Publix. They come in packages of about eight sliced bones. I like the ones with marrow inside because the dogs love to lick that out first and it’s good for them. After the marrow is out they are left with a ring of raw bone that they can gnaw and chew on for hours upon hours. If you have a local butcher they can cut them for you, too.

OK me again! I agree with Tracy that raw cow bones help clean teeth. I have been giving my (small) dogs these raw bones for many years. They have never fractured a tooth on them and I have seen less build-up on their teeth from gnawing them.

I also give my dogs moose antlers to chew on, too! Real fallen moose antlers that are carved into appropriately sized pieces per the dog’s weight. My three absolutely love them and they last forever. I can also give you a wonderful source for them...

Best way to clean dog teeth - dog gnawing moose antler

Carol Plescia’s company Acadia Antlers has been collecting and carving moose antlers for 10 years and they pride themselves on producing the highest-quality antlers for dogs in the country. I asked Carol what she loves most about them: 

“They’re non-splintering, hypo-allergenic, and there is no mess or odor,” she says. “Dogs don’t chew through them, they gradually grind them down so they serve as a great way to keep plaque and tartar off your dog’s teeth."

This is a product I recommend without hesitation. Now back to Tracy’s list!

  • In my experience, the dogs that eat dry kibble as opposed to wet food seem to have less plaque and tartar build-up. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) now even certify that some diets and chews can decrease plaque and tartar accumulation on teeth. You can certainly ask your vet about those. Food is such an individual choice, though, so if parents want to feed wet food they should try to brush their dog’s teeth daily.

  • Get your dog checked by his vet at least once a year. He or she can determine whether the state of your dog’s teeth pose a health issue. Always go to your vet right away if you have any concerns in between yearly visits.

Don’ts

  • There are many chews on the market that claim to help clean a dog’s teeth. Just be wary. Rawhides especially are bad for dogs in so many ways. Never give them rawhides. Bully sticks are better but when they get down to a certain size dogs swallow them and this can cause blockages that need vet care. They are also full of calories and dogs can put on weight by eating too many of these. So I would avoid those, too.

  • What about those treats that say they help clean teeth? We all know what they are! In reality, unless the dog is gnawing at a treat for a while and really tilting his head to go at from all angles, it’s not cleaning his teeth.

  • Have you seen those fancy additives that say they’ll reduce build-up just by pouring them into the dog’s water bowl? They don’t work. Don’t waste your money!

  • If parents give their pets dog dental toys designed to help with dental health they must supervise their pet while they are chewing them. Most of them are made of plastic and three things can happen…

  • The first is that bits of plastic can be bitten off and swallowed causing lacerations or blockages in the body. Secondly, some toys literally fall apart while being chewed. The dog is then able to swallow small pieces of them. They just aren’t a great idea. Anything made in China is especially a no-go for me. And thirdly, very hard nylon bones are notable for causing fractures.

  • The rubber Kong toys are the only ones that I like. They come in different chewing strengths and are hollow inside so that yummy fillings can be put in to keep dogs entertained for long periods. Kong fillings are a story in themselves. (Click here to find some healthy recipes and ideas.)

  • Also if your dog loves tennis balls, let him play with one by all means but be aware that if they chew them or try to pull the fuzzy hair off them, this poses a hazard. The fur can be abrasive to dog teeth and if they pull it off in chunks and swallow it that is bad as well.

  • Do not ignore bad breath. It is not normal for a dog to have stinky breath and it’s usually a sign of dental disease. Sadly this foul breath is so common that the American Dental Veterinary College state that most people do not even realize that it is a condition they must take care of as soon as possible.”

What Are the Signs of Dental Problems in Dogs?

Cartoon of a sick dog - What Are the Signs of Dental Problems in Dogs?

If you see any of the following signs it would be a great idea to get your dog’s mouth checked out as soon as you can...

  • If one side of his face looks swollen
  • If you see blood stains on his toys or chews
  • If he suddenly growls at you and avoids the head petting he usually loves
  • If you see pieces of his kibble scattered on the floor when he usually eats it straight up
  • If he doesn’t seem to want to eat
  • If his gums look red and inflamed

Any of these issues could indicate a serious oral health problem. Vet tech Tracy mentioned bad breath, too. Even though you wouldn’t make a perfume out of normal dog breath, particularly bad odors indicate that your dog has bacteria in his mouth growing from particles of food stuck in his teeth or from a gum infection.

Certain dogs – particularly small ones – are especially prone to plaque and tartar. Chloe wants us all to be aware of this as we are all small dog fans around here!

Dog Dental Care Cost

We know dental care isn’t cheap…for us or our dogs! But it’s not because vets are over-charging. It’s expensive for them to provide the service. And once again it reminds us that prevention is better than cure…including for our wallets!

Some of the reasons for the price of this care are:

  • Technological advances that help vets and vet techs practice safe anesthesia and treatments
  • Intra-oral digital x-rays can diagnose dental disease that was previously undetectable – they have become the most important tool to diagnose dental problems for most vets
  • Bloodwork – to make sure your dog can handle the anesthesia for their dental procedure, prescreening is preferred, especially for senior pets. Your vet may also want to conduct a proper physical examination of your dog and conduct further testing such as chest x-rays and heart tests
  • Upgraded equipment such as high-speed drills

Best Way to Clean Dog Teeth

If you decide you want to get into a routine of brushing your dog’s teeth, congratulations you’re smart, and the ASPCA is here to help you. They have kindly provided us with a great method on how to start. Let’s see what they say…

  • artoon of tooth being cleaned by a brush - how can I improve my dog's dental health?
    First, you’ll want to get your pet used to the idea of having her teeth brushed. To do this, start by gently massaging her lips with your finger in a circular motion for 30 to 60 seconds once or twice a day for a few weeks before moving on to her teeth and gums.
  • After a few sessions or when your pooch seems comfortable, put a little bit of dog-formulated toothpaste on her lips to get her used to the taste.
  • Next, introduce a toothbrush designed especially for dogs – it will be smaller than human toothbrushes and have softer bristles. Brushes that you can wear over your finger are also available and allow you to massage your pet's gums.
  • Place the brush or your gauze-wrapped finger at a 45-degree angle to the teeth and clean in small, circular motions. Work on one area of your dog's mouth at a time, lifting her lip as necessary. The side of the tooth that touches the cheek usually has the most tartar, and giving a final downward stroke can help to remove it.
  • If your dog resists having the inner surfaces of her teeth cleaned, don't fight it – only a small amount of tartar accumulates there. Once you get the technique down, go for a brushing two or three times a week.

I would add that if possible up this to daily brushing. Dog’s teeth are no different to ours…and we wouldn’t be happy with three times a week! However, three times a week is infinitely better than no times a week. Do what you can.

So, How Can I Improve My Dog’s Dental Health?

Have We Answered That Question? What Have We Learned?

In conclusion, we all love our little dogs and want the best for them. We wouldn’t let our children’s teeth go unbrushed so why would we do so with our four-legged kids? They can suffer if we avoid dental health for dogs and fixing bad habits after the fact costs money and the fear of anesthesia.

Yes, it’s costly to get our dog’s teeth cleaned but the cost to their health if we don’t is far higher. Let’s take this February’s Pet Dental Health Month to heart and commit to our dogs…I have decided to do just that.

Chloe the Pomeranian

Last month’s post was all about small dog breeds. And Chloe wants to remind us that these breeds are particularly vulnerable to dental disease. So, what do you think? Are you ready to make 2021 the year you finally take part in doggie dental health?

Please comment below if you clean your dog’s teeth regularly, if you don’t but want to start, and if you have any tips or tricks I’ve missed that can help us all. After commenting share this post so others can benefit from it.

Until next time, thanks!

Wendy Hollandsworth, Dog Copywriter

Photo of dog with toothbrush by Chantelle van Heerden


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