Do you know where your dog’s toothbrush is? Do you remember the last time you brushed her teeth? If the answer to either of those questions is no, it’s time to start seriously thinking about dog dental care. Those chompers aren’t going to clean themselves, and dogs suffer from dental diseases just like people do. According to Animal Planet, veterinarians estimate about 85 percent of dogs over four years old suffer from periodontal disease (also called gum disease). Some of those cases are minor, but gum disease can cause everything from infections in the mouth to organ failure. Veterinarians urge all pup parents to recognize the risks of poor dental hygiene. Here are a few tips to make sure you protect your pup’s pearly whites.

  1. Stock Up On The Right Stuff

Dog ToothbrushUnless you want to share your toothbrush with your dog, you have some shopping to do. Human toothbrushes aren’t necessarily bad to use with dogs, but there are toothbrushes made specifically for our canine friends that will make your life easier. Like the toothbrush aisle at the grocery store, there are countless options. You want something that will be easy to maneuver and has soft bristles or rubber nubs. This toothbrush from Naked Dog Bistro has bristles on three sides to make dog dental care easier.

Once you have the brush, you’ll need the toothpaste. Human toothpaste contains ingredients that are not meant to be swallowed, and they can upset canine tummies. Unless you teach your dog to spit and rinse, you need a toothpaste that is specially formulated for dogs. Besides, doggy toothpaste often comes in flavors like chicken and peanut butter that will make teeth brushing more enjoyable for your dog. Trust us, dogs don’t appreciate the minty freshness of regular toothpaste like you do.

  1. Brush Every Day!

If you’ve never thought about dog dental care before, the idea of brushing your pet’s teeth every day can seem unnecessarily time-consuming. The truth is, however, dog teeth are just like human teeth, and they need to be brushed on a daily basis. If not, bacteria colonize on teeth and harden to form tartar.  According to VCA, plaque leftover from your dog’s meal can turn into dangerous tartar in only 24 hours. The longer it’s left to accumulate, the more problems it causes. Tartar pushes back the gums to cause inflammation and gum disease, and it eventually leads to tooth decay, loose teeth, and jaw damage.

Now you know why it’s important, but the physical act of brushing your dog’s teeth every day sounds daunting. Brushing a dog’s teeth is just like brushing your own; it should only take a minute or two. Move the brush in a circular motion while focusing on the outside surface of each tooth. Try to spend 30 seconds on each side of your dog’s mouth. As long as you’re using dog-safe toothpaste, there’s no need to rinse when you’re done. Your dog will be happy to lick away the flavorful paste. The American Veterinary Medical Association offers step-by-step advice in this helpful video. We’ll talk about how to get your dog used to teeth brushing next.

  1. Transition Smoothly Into Regular Dog Dental Care

It’s best to start your dog on a regular tooth brushing regimen when she’s still a puppy and more open to new experiences. But if it’s already past that point for your adult dog, don’t panic. It’s completely normal for dogs to resist having their teeth brushed. Having someone poke stuff into your mouth is understandably unpleasant. It’s your job to teach your pup that if she can’t learn to enjoy dog dental care, she can at least learn to tolerate it. This won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight.

To start, put some of your yummy-tasting toothpaste on your finger. Let your dog lick it off, and gently insert your finger into her mouth. Do this a couple of times and move your treat-slathered finger over her teeth and gums. Practice this as many times as it takes for your dog to feel completely comfortable. For some dogs, it’ll only take one day. But for others, you might need to do this routine every day for a week or more.

When she seems perfectly fine with you sticking your finger in her mouth, bring out the toothbrush. Let her sniff and inspect this mystery object until she’s satisfied it’s safe. Apply the toothpaste, let her sniff, and do the same thing you’ve been doing with your finger, but this time, with the brush. For your first session, you might only get to brush a few teeth before your dog’s patience or courage run out. That’s perfectly fine. Stop as soon as she seems stressed as to not create a negative association. Try again the next day, and every day coming, while always trying to lengthen the session. When you’re done, whether it went well or not, reward your dog with an awesome treat or play session to show her dog dental care isn’t so bad.

  1. Let Chewing Be Beneficial

Whether it’s your favorite pair of shoes or something actually edible, your dog is going to chew. You can get mad and walk around barefoot, or you can give your dog something to chew on that will promote good dog dental care. There are countless chew toys and treats that are specifically designed to rub off plaque and clean doggy mouths.

For toys, look for durable chew toys with nubs and ridges. That texture is what will rub against the teeth and scrape off invisible plaque. Rope toys are also a good option as they act like floss to rub away plaque between teeth. You can even encourage chewing by slathering doggy toothpaste or something else your dog likes over the toy.

When shopping for dental treats, look for products that are grain- and corn-free. They should also be low in calories and easy to digest. Most dog dental treats on the market also have nubs and texture to maximize the benefit. Your dog won’t even know she’s cleaning her teeth, she’ll be too busy snacking.

  1. Know the Signs of Dental Disease

Arguably the most important step in dog dental care is catching potential problems early. Periodontal disease is progressive, which means it only gets worse with time. You can do your dog a big favor by recognizing the signs and getting her professional care. Here’s what to look out for according to VetStreet and Pets WebMD.

  • Bleeding or angry red gums
  • Serious bad breath
  • Trouble eating
  • Chewing only on one side of the mouth
  • Pawing at the mouth or rubbing the face against furniture and flooring
  • Excessive drooling with thick, ropey saliva
  • Blood in the water bowl or on chew toys
  • Unexplained facial laceration

All of these symptoms point to something wrong inside your dog’s mouth. It could be the beginning stages of gum disease, but it could also be something more serious like a rotten tooth. Blog writer Dawn McAlexander thought her Chihuahua mix had a cut on her face, but it turned out to be an abscessed tooth that was causing the dog considerable pain. Her little dog needed to have all her teeth removed.

You give your dog a healthy diet, exercise her regularly, and take her for regular vet check-ups, and dog dental care is just another part of keeping your best friend healthy and happy. By making a commitment to good oral health, you can save your dog a lot of discomforts and stop dangerous oral diseases before they cause serious problems. If you think your pup already suffers from gum disease, schedule an appointment with a trusted veterinarian that offers dog dental care services. A healthy dog mouth will give you and your pup something to smile about.

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