Dental disease is a common and widespread problem amongst our canine friends. In fact studies have shown that 80% of dogs will have some form of gum disease by the time they are 2-3 years old. Genetics and other factors such as diet can influence the development of dental disease but just like humans, in order to maintain healthy teeth and gums dogs teeth need to be brushed on a daily basis.
The importance of daily brushing
Plaque is a sticky substance which adheres to the tooth surface after eating. It contains millions of bacteria, which is what causes smelly dog breath! At this stage, if we brush the teeth, we can remove it, and the teeth and gums will remain healthy. It is however invisible to the naked eye, so it is easy to ignore!
If plaque is allowed to sit on the teeth undisturbed and untreated, then it will eventually turn into a hard brown substance called tartar or calculus. It is usually impossible to remove without scaling the teeth under an anaesthetic at a veterinary practice. The good news is that even if this has occurred, once the teeth have been cleaned by your vet, you can still start a daily brushing routine and help stop the problem recurring.
Remember: Plaque formation starts again within 12 hours of a thorough dental scale and polish, which is why home brushing is essential.
So let’s get brushing!
Puppies will lose all their baby teeth by the time they are about 6 months old and up to this time, (as anyone who has had a puppy recently will know) they chew constantly! It is therefore quite difficult to start brushing their teeth as all they do is chew the tooth brush. This can be off putting and difficult for any owner and frequently we give up as it is just too difficult. Don’t worry - help is at hand! Read on for some practical advice on how to go about developing a regular dental care routine.
Get started – You will need
- Pet toothpaste (usually chicken flavoured)
- A microfiber soft oral cleaner (this is like the finger of a glove)
- A soft toothbrush (sometimes these are angled or have two sides if specifically designed for dogs).
Put a little toothpaste on your index finger. Allow your dog/pup to get used to the taste by licking it, and rub your finger around the gum area to get him used to you working in his mouth. Reward your dog. Do this for 1-3 days before moving to Step 2.
Put the microfiber oral cleaner on your index finger and apply some tooth paste to it. Work slowly and gently around your dog’s mouth, gently wiping off plaque from the teeth and gum margin. Do not force this and let your dog swallow regularly. Do not attempt more than your dog will allow, but repeat daily and with determination! Always reward your dog. Step 2 usually takes 4-14 days, before you are ready for Step 3.
Using the tooth brush. Apply the tooth paste to the brush. Allow your dog to lick the paste but never to chew the tooth brush. Start brushing – just a few teeth at a time. Use short gentle movements backwards and forwards across the teeth. Most people find it easiest to start with the teeth in the cheek. Always reward your dog. Gradually increase the number of teeth brushed every day. Stick to the same time every day if possible; before bed is often good as your dog may be most relaxed at this time.
What if my dog just won’t let me brush his teeth?!
If your dog just won’t let you, or you think he already has dental disease then discuss this with your vet or vet nurse first. You may have to rely on your vet cleaning the teeth regularly under an anaesthetic. This isn’t a problem in most cases and is much better than letting the teeth get so bad that extensive dental work and painful extractions are needed. There are many products on the market which are supposed to get rid of dental plaque and tartar. Chews, powders and rinses to put in the water, all claim they work but they are all of limited use and there is no substitute for home brushing. They should be seen only as something to be used as well as, rather than instead of.