Dental hygiene for dogs used to not be a thing but as more and more veterinarians become aware of the hazards of poor teeth they are making a concerted effort to educate their clients. Having dealt with several of the issues that bad teeth can cause, it is now one of my goals to keep up with the dental health of my own dogs. It has been a little different for each dog since their genetics play role in how their teeth hold up over time but implementing a routine for dental care has made a big difference for all of us (at the very least there is less stinky breath). The following information outlines the key aspects of maintaining good dental hygiene.
Why is good dental care important?
Many studies have shown a significant correlation between dental health and systemic disease in humans and dogs are no different. Poor dental hygiene leads to tartar buildup which leads to gum disease which can foster a bacterial overgrowth in the mouth. These bacteria then easily enter the digestive system where they can cause long term damage to other internal organs such as the liver and heart.
Aside from affecting other organ systems, poor dental health can also cause significant pain, abscessed teeth and gums, and infections. Bad teeth lead to poor appetite which can lead to weight loss and other issues associated with that. Abscessed teeth often need to be extracted and this can be a costly surgical procedure and the loss of too many teeth will affect your dog’s ability to eat properly.
Diet Makes a Difference
Believe it or not what you feed your dog and how you feed your dog pay an important role in his health. The consistency of your dog’s food can play a huge role in how much tartar accumulates on his teeth. So basically, if you only feed canned food, it’s probably not doing your dog’s teeth any favors. The rougher textures in a dog’s diet serve as an abrasive agent to slough off plaque and tartar. If you only feed canned food, your dog misses out on this important first step in dental care.
Dry dog foods that are high in fiber are a great way to passively clean your dog’s teeth. As he chews, the food is broken down and small pieces of it scrape the enamel of the tooth and take daily buildup with it. There are even specially formulated diets available that are optimized to do this if you have a dog with recurring dental disease.
Now don’t get me wrong, canned food is perfectly fine to offer your dog but it’s best if fed in conjunction with dry food. Mixing them together is a good way to make dry food more appetizing if he just prefers canned food.
Food doesn’t have to be the only way you can accomplish some teeth cleaning – treats are a great way to sneak in some cleaning. There are many treats marketed specifically for dental health but be sure to be conscious of the ingredients and make sure you adjust your dog’s meal portions if you add treats to the diet so that you don’t overfeed him.
Home Dental Care
Feeding a tooth-conscious diet will provide a big boost for dental health but it should be accompanied by additional oral care. This is best accomplished by periodically brushing your dog’s teeth. This may sound like an impossible task but there are many tools out there to help make this easier. Your best friends in this endeavor will likely be a meat flavored toothpaste and a finger brush like those in this kit (this is the one sold by every clinic I’ve worked in). Using these you might be able to trick your dog into gnawing on the finger that has the bristles on it and sneaking in a few strokes along the teeth and gums while he is focused on the meaty toothpaste.
The good news is that now there are also dental wipes like these and a water additive like this one that contain enzymes to help break down plaque. These may be a good option if you have trouble brushing your dog’s teeth or if you need to take action on a daily basis (which is just not usually an option with the toothbrush). These products also have the added bonus of freshening breath.
Veterinary Dental Care
If you have been unable to keep up with your dog’s dental care or were simply unaware that you needed to you will likely find yourself at the vet being told your dog needs a dental. Veterinary dental services usually come in two forms. The first and least traumatic and expensive is called a hand scale. In this procedure your vet simply uses a stainless steel scraper to scrape off any visible tartar. This is very similar to what your dental hygienist does to you before a teeth cleaning at the dentist’s office and your dog may or may not be placed under light sedation based on his behavior.
The second, more involved process is a full dental cleaning. For this procedure your dog will be fully anesthetized and a machine similar to a water pick is used to remove excessive tartar buildup as well as provide a deep cleaning. This will also be the ideal opportunity to remove any rotten or abscessed teeth. When we rescued Tucker he had to undergo this procedure and have 10 teeth extracted. I don’t know what he had to eat previously but he definitely doesn’t get wet food here.
I hope this article has highlighted how important it is to stay on top of your dog’s dental care – if not simply for health reasons then for financial ones also. Thankfully, brushing your dog’s teeth need not be done every day – I brush mine once a week and provide teeth cleaning bones a few times a month – but if I’m being honest, if it meant prolonging his life and comfort, poor Tucker would get his teeth brushed far more often. Please use the information contained here to start a schedule for your own dog and don’t let a dental problem creep up on you!