'Should I be brushing my dog's teeth?' is a question we get asked a lot at The Pet Health Hub and the short answer is 'YES'!
There are a number of reasons that we now see dental disease more frequently in our dogs (and cats!) and these range from diet, breeding and genetics and life expectancy increasing. There are a few different breeds that seem to suffer more than others such as Terriers and small dogs with more crowded teeth and large breeds such as Greyhounds and Labradors. A good diet will certainly go some way to reducing dental problems in animals but to be sure it is well worth investing the time to get your pet used to having their teeth brushed and making it part of your routine.
When should I start brushing my dog's teeth?
As soon as possible! Ideally start as early as possible with new puppies and kittens so that having their mouth handled becomes a normal part of life. Start by making sure they are comfortable being gently restrained and then have a good feel around their head and jaw and lift up the jowls (sides of the mouth) and check the teeth underneath. Then get them used to the feeling of a finger rubbing along their gums and teeth and gently open their mouth to look inside. Then you can start introducing them to a soft toothbrush or a rubber finger-brush. You may wish to use some pet toothpaste which is often flavoured with beef or chicken. This helps them to accept the toothbrush as it comes with a yummy flavour! Do not use human toothpaste as it can contain additives which may be toxic to dogs - most of them are not too keen on the mint flavour either! Once they are used to being handled and seeing the toothbrush you can then get them into the routine of having their teeth brushed. Starting from the back gently brush both the top and bottom teeth and work your way forward. Do both sides before finishing with the small teeth (incisors) at the very front. These are the most ticklish and are best done last! In most cases you only need to brush the outer surface of the teeth but should have a good look inside the mouth for any issues.
How often should I brush my pet's teeth?
If you can manage everyday that would be fantastic but a really thorough brush a couple of times a week is much better than just a quick one everyday. The idea is to remove the small layer (known as a biofilm) that builds up over the surface and can over time lead to plaque and tartar build up which is difficult to remove.
When should I see my vet?
If you notice any bleeding, gum swelling, broken teeth, excessive drooling or bad smell it is time to head to the vet. If you notice that your pet is less interested in eating or is only chewing on one side get them checked out as soon as possible. The most important thing is to know what is normal for your pet so that you can pick up on any changes quickly and seek advice.
Dental treatment is one of the most common reasons for hospital admissions in adult pets and because most treatments need a general anaesthetic this can be costly. Prevention is always better than cure so take your time and get your pets comfortable having their teeth brushed and it will really benefit their health. If you have any concerns about your pet visit your vet for more advice.