Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth: Preventative Dental Care

Does your dog have smelly breath? An estimated 80% of dogs have dental disease by 3 years of age. Help protect your dog with these simple dog brushing techniques and preventative care.

Unfortunately many dogs develop significant pain and infection due to unhealthy teeth, as well as being banished from the bedroom. A bit of prevention can go a long way towards keeping your pet’s teeth healthy and ultimately save you money.

What is periodontal disease?

While humans tend to get caries or holes in our teeth, dogs are more at risk of periodontal disease, which is disease around the base of the tooth near the gumline. The accumulation of sticky plaque, made up of bacteria, proteins and food, hardens to form calculus on the teeth. This hard calculus causes inflamed and bleeding gums (gingivitis) and as the condition progresses, there is loss of attachment between the gum and the tooth. As the gum separates from the tooth, little pockets of infection develop around the tooth. The bacteria around damaged teeth leads to the foul smelling breath and illness associated with dental disease.

Dogs that have daily brushing of their teeth will have much fresher smelling breath and be less inclined to need costly dental treatment. Getting into the habit when your puppy is young is the best way to start, but any dog can be trained with enough patience and lots of food rewards.

What do I need?

Pet toothpastes are flavoured like meat pastes, so they become part of the reward for allowing brushing. You can get various flavours like chicken or even cheese. Human toothpaste is not meant to be swallowed and pets will hate that minty foaming stuff that we like, so a pet toothpaste is a very worthwhile investment.

There are various different styles of toothbrush. You can use a soft baby’s toothbrush or a finger-brush. Just make sure the brush is soft to avoid damaging the gums.

Teaching your dog to tolerate brushing

To teach your dog to accept brushing, first start out with some toothpaste on your finger and touch the teeth, allowing your pet to lick the paste. If this is tolerated, get a face washer or the edge of a towel and dip it in water and rub it in the paste, then onto your dog’s teeth. Gradually increase the contact time as your dog’s tolerance increases. Use lots of treats to reward your dog every step of the way. After the washer is accepted, switch to a soft toothbrush or finger brush.

Technique tips

  • Aim for 5 seconds on each tooth and brush once daily.
  • Pay particular attention to the base of the tooth, aiming for a 45° angle with the gum-line.
  • Avoid a vigorous side-to-side action that will damage the gums, gently use a circular, flicking motion along the gum-line.
  • Brush only the outside of the teeth, the tongue will take care of the inside.
  • If your dog has bleeding gums after brushing, take him to the Vet for a check-up before doing more brushing.

What if my pet has lots of discolouration, plaque or calculus?

If your dog’s breath is smelly, there is discolouration, recession of the gums and a large amount of calculus you will need a professional dental clean. No amount of brushing will get hard calculus off the teeth.