A pretty smile might not be at the top of your dog’s priority list, but dog dental care should be on yours because a dog’s mouth is their gateway to overall health and wellbeing.
Dogs use their teeth for more than just eating. They use them to play, carry things and explore their surroundings and if they experience problems, such as gum disease, their ability to enjoy life to the max could be altered so it’s important to keep our dog’s teeth and gums free from disease.
The anatomy of a dog’s mouth:
Puppies will have their adult teeth (42 in total) by the time they are around six to eight-months-old, with their molars coming in last and each tooth has a job to do.
The molars are used for crushing and grinding. The premolars are used for tearing and chewing. The canines are for holding items or puncturing and the incisors, the small teeth at the front of a dog’s mouth, are usually used for nibbling when grooming, for example.
All teeth play an important role and that’s why it’s important to keep a dog’s mouth healthy.
Gum disease is the most common disease in dogs and according to research by Pedigree, 4 out of 5 dogs over three-years-old show signs of periodontal disease, so, how can you tell if your dog’s teeth and gums are healthy and how can you best look after them?
Here’s what we know.
1. Introducing a daily oral care routine as early as possible is important
Experts recommend establishing a routine early. Brushing can be a great way to spend a few quiet minutes together, so it needn’t be a scary thought, rather think of it as an important bonding session and brushing your dog's teeth regularly is a great way to keep his gums and teeth healthy while keeping gum disease at bay.
To brush your dog’s teeth you will need:
- Dog toothpaste - these can be bought in tasty flavours, such as beef, to appeal to a dog’s natural senses (dogs cannot have human toothpaste because they should not have fluoride)
- A medium bristle toothbrush - toy or miniature dog breeds should use a small special pet toothbrush, small dogs should use a child-size toothbrush, medium and large dogs should use an adult size toothbrush
- Bowl of water - to wet and rinse the brush
- Quiet space - somewhere you and your dog can spend a couple of minutes each day without distraction, try to choose the same time and space each day to establish a routine
Step 1: Getting your dog used to the toothpaste
To get your dog used to the idea of having his teeth brushed, first introduce the dog toothpaste gently by putting a little on your finger and encouraging your dog to sniff and lick it so he gets used to the taste.
Repeat this for a few days. It’s important to take each stage slowly to help get your dog comfortable with the activity.
Once you know your dog is used to the toothpaste and likes the taste, put a small drop on your fingertip and instead of letting him sniff and lick it, you’ll be rubbing directly on your dog’s teeth to get him used to having something different in his mouth (this is to prepare him for the toothbrush).
Begin by gently holding your dog’s muzzle closed with your other hand, and place the finger with toothpaste on it inside your dog’s mouth under the top lip on either the left or right side of your dog’s mouth (whichever is most comfortable for you and your dog) and keeping your dog’s mouth closed, rub your fingertip with toothpaste on your dog’s teeth slowly.
If you think your dog might react, seek advice from your vet or a behaviourist first.
Step 2: Introducing the toothbrush
After repeating the above for four or five days, it’s time to get your dog used to the toothbrush so begin by wetting the toothbrush with water then add some toothpaste on top and push it down into the bristles.
Then, to stop your dog chewing the brush, hold his muzzle and lift the top lip on one side of his mouth. Start by gently brushing the canine teeth, these are the longest and are a good way to gently start the process and get your dog used to having his teeth cleaned.
Expert tip from Pedigree® DentaFlex®: “Do not start with the incisor teeth at the front of the mouth as this is a more sensitive area of the mouth.”
Step 3: Increasing the brushing
After four or five days of getting your dog used to the toothbrush and having his canine teeth cleaned, you can move onto cleaning teeth further back in their mouth, starting with their molars.
To get to the molars, the toothbrush will have to reach the larger teeth opposite the inside of your dog’s cheeks. Begin with the upper molars first before moving to the lower teeth.
Expert tip from Pedigree® DentaFlex®: “If you find the toothbrush is too big, try a smaller size. Increase the brushing gradually and stop if your dog is reacting more than a little bit.”
Step 4: Putting it all together
By now your dog should be used to having their top and lower teeth, front and back, cleaned so it’s time to finish the process by getting your dog used to having his incisors, the smaller teeth at the front, cleaned.
Begin by holding his muzzle closed before lifting the top lid at the front of his mouth, then brush the front teeth. As you will be cleaning the outside of the incisors, brush for a little longer than usual.
Remember to reward good behaviour throughout each of the steps. It’s important for your dog to associate having his teeth cleaned, and being well-behaved as he learns each new step, with praise and his favourite reward. Some dogs might prefer a treat, others might enjoy their favourite toy.
And that’s it! By giving your dog four-five sessions to get used to each new step, you’ll help to get them comfortable with the process allowing you to build up each new thing they’re learning before moving onto the next.
Clean your dog’s teeth at least once a day for the best results for your dog.
2. Dental chews work too, science reveals
According to an independent scientific study published in the Journal of Veterinary Dentistry in 2013, scientists developed a ‘clean mouth’ test model where they divided 60 dogs into two groups of 30 and daily dental chews were given to one group of dogs daily for 28 days.
At the end of the study, they were able to determine that the levels of plaque and tartar (also known as calculus), as well as smelly breath and gingivitis, were reduced in the group of 30 dogs given daily chews, compared to the group of dogs fed only dry food.
Good oral health begins with a well-balanced quality diet to make sure dogs are being given the right balance and type of nutrients for healthy development whatever their age, and so nutritional experts have now taken this research one step further and believe the best results can be gained by feeding a mixed life stage diet, balancing wet and dry food with tasty dental chews fed twice weekly, to ensure that dogs get the right type of nutrients throughout their life while fighting plaque and tartar build-up.
What to look for in a dog dental chew
Pedigree® Dentastix™ dental chews are recommended by vets as part of a dog’s oral care routine because they are scientifically proven to help reduce plaque and tartar build-up by up to 80 per cent when fed daily.
This is because their unique x-shape design, which was developed by vets, helps to break down tartar, clean hard to reach teeth and reaches plaque at the gum line.
Dental chews often come in different varieties too, so you can find the right size and type for your dog’s age, needs and taste buds.
For example, the original DentaStix® chews contain no added sugar and are low in calorie, while DentaStix® Fresh has added ingredients, including green tea extract and eucalyptus oil, to help combat dogs suffering with bad breath.
DentaStix® Advanced is another alternative for a deep clean twice weekly. They are low fat and have a different texture to the originals, this means the chews flex around teeth, giving a deep clean up to the gum line.
And then there is a chew for puppies. DentaTubos™ is rich in calcium and has a great taste. It also has a unique shape and texture specially designed for developing teeth and gums.
3. Regular veterinary check-ups are important
It’s important to have your vet check your dog’s teeth regularly in addition to daily routines carried out at home.
This gives your vet a chance to keep up to date regularly with any changes that may be taking place and will give you peace of mind to help keep your dog in the best health possible.