Pet parents who skip regular tooth brushing are definitely not alone. A 2016 poll sponsored by Royal Canin indicated that, although 76 percent of pet parents acknowledge the importance of tooth brushing in their pet’s dental and overall health, very few of them do it on a regular basis, with 43 percent of dog owners and 73 percent of cat owners saying that they have never brushed their pets’ teeth.
Fortunately, there are ways to make this process easier for everyone. And if that means bringing your pet to a professional for their teeth cleaning, that’s okay! Here’s how to clean a dog’s teeth at home and some other options to consider:
Cleaning a Dog’s Teeth at Home
If you’ve just gotten a new puppy, start handling his teeth, gums and mouth immediately. Safe ways of handling your dog’s mouth include lifting just the lips while your puppy is sleepy and using your forefinger to rub horizontally along the gums only. Eventually, you can move your finger from the gums down to the gum line.
Using a special treat which is given only at the time of brush training can help a usually-rambunctious chewer calm down. Do not ever put your fingers in an excited puppy’s mouth or between the teeth. This training will help make the experience tolerable, if not enjoyable, for the rest of his life. If you’ve adopted an older pet, mouth handling can be a little bit trickier, so make sure to go slowly.
Give your pet time to settle into his new home before introducing the concept of having your hands in and around his mouth. Start slowly and stop immediately if he starts showing signs of distress or discomfort. After every successful interaction, like allowing his mouth or gums to be touched, give your dog plenty of praise with high-value treats. It may take months before your pet accepts the activity and lets you progress to the actual tooth brushing, and some dogs may never allow you to brush their teeth at home.
If you’re new to tooth brushing and don’t know what to buy, many companies offer starter and travel-size kits with a dog toothbrush, toothpaste and oral gel. Many veterinary clinics will take the time to demonstrate how to properly brush your dog’s teeth, which can be helpful in the beginning phases.
Tip: Brushing the crowns (or points) of your dog’s teeth is not necessary in most cases, as the plaque forms at and under the gumline.
Seeing a Veterinarian for Dog Dental Cleanings
Scheduling regular veterinary care is critically important to your pet’s wellbeing, particularly their dental health. Dental disease in dogs doesn’t just cause tartar, bad breath and loose teeth; oral bacteria can also have a negative impact on the kidneys, liver, and heart as well.
Teeth brushing should start immediately and yearly dental exams with a veterinarian will determine if your dog’s teeth cleanings need to be performed yearly. Most pets go in once a year for a professional cleaning performed under general anesthesia (which is more comfortable and less stressful for them).
Some pets don’t require a cleaning until 3 or 4 years of age, and others won’t require yearly cleanings if their parents are diligent about dental care at home. Because veterinarians can only see the crown of your dog’s tooth during dental exams, they’ll likely recommend dental radiographs at yearly dental cleanings, as many pet dental issues occur below the gumline at the root of the teeth.
Pets with advanced or chronic dental health issues may need to have their teeth cleaned twice a year. Your veterinarian will advise you on the best treatment plan, according to up-to-date guidelines and protocols.
If your dog won’t tolerate having his teeth cleaned at home, talk to your veterinarian about professional cleanings and other alternatives you can try (like water additives, dental chews and other supplements) at home.
Talk to Your Goomer About Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth
If you’re unable to brush your dog’s teeth at home, many groomers offer tooth brushing services. Make sure to use an experienced groomer trained in fear-free handling. It’s okay to ask your groomer if you can be present during the procedure, just keep in mind that, because of legal and liability issues, most chain or big box grooming salons probably won’t allow you into the treatment room while they are providing services.
This option may become expensive, as brushing the teeth should occur daily per veterinary dentist recommendations. Another consideration is hiring a veterinary technician or assistant to come to your home and brush your dog’s teeth. Many veterinary technicians and assistants will offer this service outside of their normal work hours.
If your furry companions want nothing to do with active, in-home dental care, don’t despair, as there are many ways to help keep your pet’s breath fresh and teeth clean, without the drama. Using a multi-layered, more passive approach can be very effective in fighting dog dental disease when tooth brushing just isn’t going to happen.
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A graduate of The University of Chicago, Melanie worked in academia and finance for many years before joining the companion animal community. She believes that a good education fosters compassion, informed advocacy, and a deeper understanding of animals as they really are. She is passionate about effective communication, and in addition to her freelance writing and editing gigs she has a burgeoning career as an instructional designer. Melanie lives in Chicago with her overlords—a flock of super-smart companion parrots and a Chi-Puggle mix named Hattie.