When my husband and I adopted Rolf the Greyhound 10 years ago, we loved his joyful spirit and sweet temperament, but he had a problem. The then 9-year-old came with giant bag of breath fresheners, dog dental chews and a dog toothbrush toy—and for good reason. His breath stunk to high heaven.
We discovered that poor Rolf suffered from severe periodontal disease brought on by neglected dog dental care. And, after some research, we learned that his breed type only exacerbated the problem.
“Some of the sighthounds with those sleek, narrow skulls have less bone to support the teeth,” explains veterinary dentist Bert Gaddis, DVM, DAVDC, owner of Indian Springs Dental Clinic in Pelham, Alabama. “And generally, the smaller the dog, the more likely dental disease will be a problem because they have less bone that supports the teeth, too.”
A week after he came home, Rolf visited our local veterinarian, who gave the big lug a full dental exam, along with a cleaning, polishing and, unfortunately, quite a few extractions of rotten teeth. After our sweet Grey bounded out of the recovery room, however, I could tell he was a much, much happier dog. He has since crossed the Rainbow Bridge, but while he was with us, I learned the importance of dog oral care and how it is critical to maintaining a dog’s health and wellness.
To keep your dog’s teeth sparkling and disease free, experts recommend a daily cleaning regime with a dog toothbrush and annual professional dental exams. Read on to find out more about how you can improve your dog’s dental health.
Why Dog Dental Care Is Important?
Do dogs need dental care? Absolutely, says Kimi H. Kan-Rohrer, RDHAP, BSDH, a clinical specialist-dental hygienist at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, University of California, Davis. Just like in humans, dog oral care is an important part of overall wellness, she says.
“Because pets are living longer, dog dental care has become more important to address as it can be connected to other health issues,” says Kan-Rohrere, adding that severe dental problems can possibly lead to death.
Health studies in humans, in fact, show a strong connection between oral health and conditions like diabetes and disease due to bacteria in the bloodstream, Kan-Rohrer says.
“So, it is reasonable to assume that this is a similar process in both dogs and cats,” she says.
Aside from the possible connection between oral health and other diseases, Kan-Rohrer notes that “severe dental disease can be very painful, even though dogs and cats hide pain well, and can lead to a change in eating habits and behavior.”
Proper Dog Dental Care.
A healthy dog mouth, says Dr. Gaddis, should have pale pink gums that have a knife-like edge where they meet the tooth surface. An unhealthy mouth, he says, has a distinct look—and odor.
“Gingivitis, or red and inflamed gums caused by plaque and tartar buildup, is the first stage of dental disease,” he says. “Signs include odor and bleeding gums. As gums get inflamed and develop periodontal disease, they become swollen, inflamed and eventually recede because of bone loss.”
To prevent that gingivitis and periodontal disease from developing, the best dog dental care involves regular at-home scrubbing with a dog toothbrush and toothpaste, like Nylabone’s Advanced Oral Care Natural Dog Dental Kit, and professional cleanings.
At-Home Dental Care.
When you clean your pal’s teeth at home, you use the mechanical action of applying a dog toothbrush’s bristles to his teeth to remove food, bacteria and plaque before it hardens, calcifies and turns into tough-to-remove tartar, Dr. Gaddis says.
“You should brush your dog’s teeth daily or every other day because plaque is easily brushed away and takes about 48-72 hours to harden and calcify,” he says. “Once it’s calcified, it needs to be scraped off by a professional.”
Dog toothpaste, like Sentry Petrodex Veterinary Strength Enzymatic Poultry Flavor Dog Toothpaste, adds to that mechanical brushing by introducing bacteria-busting enzymes and a delicious-to-dogs taste to the mix, Dr. Gaddis says.
“Pet toothpastes have enzymatic action so even just getting in the mouth can help, but brushing is the key,” he says, adding to never use toothpaste for humans on dogs. “Human toothpastes have detergents and fluoride that shouldn’t be swallowed.”
To brush your dog’s teeth, start by using your finger or a finger brush, and then, once they are used to having their mouth handled, move onto a dog toothbrush and toothpaste. Be sure to give lots of treats as a reward for good behavior. Get step-by-step instructions on how to brush your dog’s teeth.
Professional Dental Cleanings.
Dog dental health also includes veterinary dental cleanings—and they are something completely different, says Kan-Rohrer. In fact, they’re not terribly unlike the dental cleanings you get from your dentist.
In the examination room, a veterinarian will perform an oral exam. Based on their findings, they’ll recommend a periodontal treatment as needed, Kan-Rohrer says. One major difference between your dog’s dental cleanings and your own is that your dog is put under general anesthesia.
“While the pet is under general anesthesia, a dental appointment includes a full set of intraoral radiographs, full mouth dental charting and a periodontal treatment that utilizes both supra- and subgingival (above and below the gumline) scaling,” Kan-Rohrer says, adding that more complicated cases, like difficult extractions and root canal treatments, are often referred to a veterinary dental specialist.
These professional cleanings should be done annually, she says.
“Depending on the breed or severity of disease, less or more than one year can be suggested,” Kan-Rohrer says. “This also depends on whether or not consistent homecare is performed.”
Dog Oral Care Products.
Speaking of consistent homecare, you can find a range of products designed especially for keeping dogs’ teeth clean and their mouths fresh. Some of them even clean a dog’s teeth without brushing. Below, we dive into some of the best dog teeth cleaning products out there, and we describe the features and benefits of each one.