Dog dental care is vital to your pet’s quality of life. Dogs need strong teeth and healthy mouths to maintain their diet and enjoy the daily play. Poor oral health can result in a lot of pain and discomfort for your pet, and the only way to keep their mouth in tip-top shape is with consistent, proper dog dental care. But what does that mean, exactly?
Many dog owners might be surprised to learn that dogs need to have their teeth cleaned both daily by their owners and also professionally cleaned once a year. Your dog might start to demonstrate a few signs if you don’t have a regular oral hygiene practice with them.
Even if your dog isn’t showing any signs of deterioration in its mouth and gums, oral care is important because it will prevent or delay that deterioration. The longer you can keep Fido’s mouth in great shape, the better – for your dog’s life and happiness, and your wallet. Dental vet bills can get expensive, fast.
Here’s our guide to dog dental care, including signs of an unhealthy canine mouth, how to brush your dog’s teeth, and other tips for keeping those pearly whites beautiful and strong.
Signs Your Dog Needs Better Dental Care
Your dog will likely show behavioral and physical signs if their dental care is lacking. These might include:
- Bad breath
- Gum discoloration or inflammation
- Less interest in food or treats
- Sensitivity to touch around the face and mouth
- Discolored or scaly teeth
Bad Breath Can Indicate Dental Issues
Bad breath, also known as halitosis, can be an indicator that your dog’s dental care is not as good as it should be. Bad breath is usually caused by bacteria that grow in your pet’s mouth when food gets stuck between their teeth. Brushing can lessen and even eliminate this kind of bacteria.
Halitosis can also be caused by an infection in your pet’s mouth and it can also be an indicator of kidney issues. Your dog’s bad breath shouldn’t be ignored – especially if it isn’t relieved with a regular brushing routine.
Discolored Gums May Signify Discomfort
A dog’s gums should be light pink and firm. Some dogs also have black gums or a combination of pink and black in their mouths. It’s important to know what your pet’s mouth looks like when they are healthy so you can recognize changes that may indicate a health risk. Especially if your dog has patterned black-and-pink gums, you’ll need to pay close attention to the color of their mouth when they are healthy so you will notice any discoloration.
Outside of pink and black, gum discoloration is a sign that your dog needs better oral care. If your dog’s gums are pale or bright red, loose, bleeding, or pulling away from the tooth, their mouth needs immediate care.
A Dog with Unhealthy Teeth Might Reject Food
Your dog’s oral hygiene is directly related to their diet because they need a healthy mouth and teeth to eat properly. One sign that your dog’s dental care needs to be better is if they start to ignore or reject their meals or treats. They might be avoiding food because it is hard for them to chew. Perhaps they have a growth or cut in their mouth that makes eating painful, or a broken tooth, or inflamed gums. All of these issues would make it difficult for your dog to eat.
Loss of appetite can signify a lot of problems for a dog and oral hygiene is just one of the problems it might indicate. If your dog is consistently rejecting food, contact your veterinarian immediately as it could be a sign of something more serious.
Is Your Dog’s Mouth Sensitive to Touch?
Sometimes a dog’s dental issue will become apparent to an owner during snuggle time. If your dog winces or jerks away when you try to touch their mouth and jaw, that’s a sign something’s not right. If your dog is really upset when you try to examine their mouth, you might need to take them to the veterinarian for an exam.
Excessive Drooling Can Indicate a Problem
Many oral and dental issues in dogs will cause excessive drooling. Drooling can be a response to something as simple as tartar buildup and something more serious, like an oral tumor.
Discolored or Scaly Teeth Aren’t Good
Your dog’s teeth should be white and free from discoloration and the presence of tartar. If a dog isn’t having his teeth brushed regularly, tartar can often build up a yellow, scaly crust up near where the gum meets the tooth.
How to Clean Your Dog’s Teeth
The best way to prevent the above list of issues is with consistent daily cleaning of your dog’s teeth. This routine doesn’t have to be complex or time-consuming, especially once your pooch has become comfortable with it. Like so many pet care routines, tooth brushing can be a bonding experience for you and your dog.
Here are the steps to cleaning your dog’s teeth:
- Pick a good pet-specific toothpaste and brush
- Choose a calm, specific environment
- Introduce the products to your dog
- Start slowly and be gentle
- Take breaks and be positive
- Repeat the process daily
- Look, look, look
Choose the Right Tools
The first step to successful dog dental care is to start with the best dog teeth-cleaning products. You cannot use human toothpaste to brush your dog’s teeth. Human toothpaste often has fluoride, which is toxic for dogs. Plus, that minty flavor isn’t great for canines, either. Never use human toothpaste for dog dental care.
Instead, it’s easy to find a specific dog toothpaste at your local pet store, along with a toothbrush that will be shaped for your dog’s mouth (though you can also just use a human toothbrush that you already have in your cabinet).
Create a Relaxing Environment for Tooth Brushing
Especially when you first introduce toothbrushing to your dog, you’ll want to create a serene, chill environment so your dog feels relaxed. It’s also good to choose a spot in the home where you can always go for toothbrushing time, so your dog knows what to expect and associates a certain space with this process.
Dogs appreciate routine and predictability. Many people choose to brush their dog’s teeth in the bathroom, but you might also brush their teeth while they lie on their dog bed – wherever they feel relaxed and comfortable.
Let Your Dog Get Familiar with the Brush and Paste
Start by placing the toothbrush and the toothpaste on the floor so your dog can give them a sniff and get familiar with them. Open the toothpaste and place a little dollop on your dog’s tongue so she can taste it. Use a lot of praise and an encouraging tone as you make this introduction. It might even be a good time to give your dog a treat, so they associate the toothbrushing tools with something positive.
Start Slow and Always Be Gentle
Don’t start with the toothbrush and paste immediately. Instead, use your hands and fingers to rub your dog’s teeth and gums and let them get familiar with being touched on the mouth. This stage might last several days before your dog seems ready for the toothbrush.
Once your dog is comfortable with having its mouth explored by your hands, you can try the brush with some paste. It might take weeks to graduate to fully brushing your dog’s teeth, especially if you’re starting this routine with an older dog rather than a puppy.
Take Breaks and Offer Rewards and Praise
Establishing a dog dental care routine will take time. Most dogs are protective of their mouths and won’t be excited about this process. It’s very important that you offer consistent rewards and praise during this process and never force your dog to continue if they start showing signs of stress.
Your dog needs to associate toothbrushing with positive feelings so you can create a consistent routine. Always stop immediately when your dog starts to feel uncomfortable. That means this process takes time, but it’s best to go slowly and let your dog set the pace.
Repeat This Process Daily When Possible
The best dental care for dogs will be provided consistently – daily whenever possible. Like you, your dog eats every day, which means they need to have their teeth brushed to make sure their mouth is clean of food debris and less inclined to develop bacteria or infection. Daily brushing also gives you time to examine your dog’s mouth for changes or developing problems.
Use Your Powers of Observation
Look at your dog’s mouth carefully when you brush their teeth. You can identify a lot of dental problems visually, such as broken teeth, discolored gums, or excessive yellow tartar on your dog’s teeth. If something looks abnormal, it’s probably worth contacting your veterinarian. Take the time to examine your dog’s mouth every day, even if you can’t get around to brushing. The key to oral hygiene and dental health issues is catching problems early before they become too serious (and expensive!).
Other Tips for Dog Dental Treatment
Dog dental care goes beyond just daily brushing. Here are some other tips for keeping those canine canines in great shape:
- Start early
- Provide chew toys
- Establish a healthy diet
- Schedule professional cleanings
Start as Early as Possible with Dog Dental Care
It is easier to introduce a puppy to toothbrushing and a dental care routine than an older dog. It’s best to start as early as possible with an oral health regime. Oral care is preventive and the earlier you can start, the better.
Chew Toys Can Help with Dental Health in Dogs
Chewing is an instinct for dogs, and it’s part of the way they contribute to their oral care. Make sure your dog has plenty of safe, healthy chew toys for tooth care in between brushing. Chew toys also keep your dog’s teeth strong.
Diet Impacts Your Dog’s Dental Health
If your dog has recurring dental issues and you’ve already established a consistent oral hygiene routine, then it might be time to investigate their diet. Giving your dog too many human foods or table scraps that are high in sugar can cause excessive tooth decay. Your dog’s diet directly impacts their oral health, so you need to be sure they are getting well-rounded nutrition that’s appropriate for canines.
Schedule Deep Cleanings, Too
Even if you are diligent about cleaning your dog’s teeth, you can’t do it all. Veterinarians have the tools and expertise necessary to clean your dog’s teeth more thoroughly, so your dog must be getting a professional checkup annually. Your vet should include a dental exam in your dog’s yearly physical, but you’ll also need to schedule deep cleanings. Often, your dog will be sedated for a dog dental cleaning in which their teeth are brushed, scaled, and polished.
Helpful tip: Be cautious of places offering “anesthesia-free” dental cleanings. As in humans, a lot of dogs’ dental issues are below the gumline. These surface cleanings without x-rays and anesthesia to thoroughly examine and deep-clean your dog’s teeth are not a substitute for an annual professional dental exam and cleaning, which your veterinarian can provide.
Don’t Wait for Doggie Dental Problems
Dog dental care is a preventive measure intended to help your dog maintain a happy, healthy lifestyle. Caring for your dog is a daily job and cleaning their teeth should be part of your routine. Now that you know how to clean your dog’s teeth, make it a habit and give your pooch the gift of a healthy mouth!