If you’ve ever had a toothache, you know you wouldn’t wish it on anyone — particularly your beloved dog. But the fact is that most dogs do suffer silently from preventable, and painful, dental problems. We spoke to Dr. Sasha Naugler, a veterinarian in Tucson, Arizona, about why regular teeth cleaning — yes, we mean brushing — is one of the most important ways you can support dental health, which can spare your pup from pain and promote better health and a longer life.
“Oral health has a huge impact on a dog’s quality of life,” says Dr. Naugler. “If you can stay on top of it, you can keep a number of problems at bay.” Those problems include:
- Acute and chronic pain
- Gingivitis (gum inflammation)
- Tooth decay
- Advanced periodontal disease
- Bone loss
- Difficulty chewing
- Reduction in lifespan
These issues are far from rare. In fact, periodontal disease is the most common health problem in dogs. Eighty percent of dogs have some form of it by the time they’re two. Not only can oral pain interfere with eating, but the bacteria living in a dog’s mouth can end up in other places throughout their body and damage major organs. “Good dental care can prolong pets’ lives for years,” says Dr. Naugler.
“I had no idea my dog was in pain”
Dr. Naugler often hears owners express surprise when they learn their dog has dental disease, and that it could be in chronic pain. There are two reasons for this unawareness. First, the trouble advances slowly; dogs often acclimate to their discomfort, and any behavioral changes happen so gradually that they go unnoticed. Second, dogs have an instinct to keep their pain hidden. So, you can’t go on appearances or wait for a condition to become acute; you have to be diligent about dental care.
What’s a dog owner to do?
Though some treats and toys have been formulated to scrape away tooth bacteria, if you really want to keep your dog’s teeth healthy, you need to brush them regularly.
The American Kennel Club lists brushing as the No. 1 strategy for keeping a dog’s teeth clean. Their literature explains, “Just like with people, it’s ideal to brush teeth daily. If you don’t have time for that, brushing teeth at least once a week will suffice, though the more often the better.”
Dr. Naugler concurs. “Ideally, you want to start when dogs are young,” she says. “By rubbing their gums and playing with their mouths, you can get them accustomed to having your hands in there.” Make brushing part of your dog’s routine, and it will become normalized.
How exactly do you brush a dog’s teeth?
First, never use human toothpaste on your dog. As the American Kennel Club explains, “Many human toothpastes contain Xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is toxic to dogs.” Instead, choose a toothpaste formulated for pets, with enzymes to combat plaque and tartar. Vet’s Best, for example, is veterinarian-formulated from high quality ingredients to remove bacteria and freshen breath. It’s strong and effective, but still safe and natural.
Second, look for a toothbrush specially designed for dogs. The Vet’s Best toothbrush has soft bristles to be gentle on a dog’s gums, plus three brush heads that let you clean all sides of your dog’s teeth simultaneously.
For those pets who don’t do well with a toothbrush and toothpaste, dental wipes are a good alternative. You might consider using dog mouthwash (an additive that goes in your dog’s water) to freshen breath and clean gums. See what works best for your dog, and remember to be patient. Your goal is to instill a routine.
Professional cleanings are still a must.
In the same way that humans brush their teeth daily as well as visit the dentist, you’ll want to get your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned as your vet deems necessary. However, regular brushing can prolong the time between cleanings, which translates into significant long-term savings and perhaps a longer life for your beloved pet — two more wonderful reasons to make toothbrushing part of your dog’s healthy, happy life.