How to take care of your dog’s teeth

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You know how important it is to maintain a regular brushing routine, but can you say the same for your dog?

Getting dental care for your dog is probably not something you worry about until there is a problem with your dog’s health including his teeth. But, just like you, your canine companion needs routine dental care to maintain a healthy mouth. Unlike you, your dog cannot do this on their own. 

Preventive dental care can help ensure your dog’s overall health as they get older and save you money on professional cleanings or oral surgery to fix neglected tooth problems.
Cleaning your dog’s teeth at home could be the key to a long and healthy life for your furry friend. From choosing the right toothbrush to the cost of a professional cleaning, here’s how you could clean your dog’s teeth.

Brush your dog’s teeth

The simplest and cheapest way to care for your dog’s teeth is with a simple tooth brushing routine. 
Just like with humans, tooth brushing help remove plaque buildup before it solidifies into tartar, which is harder to remove. Routine brushing also helps to keep your dog’s gums healthy.¹

How to brush your dog’s teeth

An easy way to get your dog comfortable with tooth-brushing is by introducing the routine when they’re a puppy, turning back the clock on your full-grown dog may not be an option.

Whether your dog is just a puppy or is well into adulthood, getting your dog used to a tooth-brushing routine isn’t always easy.

Here are a few tips that can make brushing your dog’s teeth go a little smoother:²

  • Start by simply massaging their gums using your finger. You may need to do this for a few weeks until your dog is ready to move on to a real brush. This helps to acclimate your dog to having something in their mouth. 

  • After your dog is used to just your finger massaging their gums, you can introduce toothpaste to the equations too. This allows your dog to taste the toothpaste and connect it with the massaging.  

  • Once you have massaged and added toothpaste, you can introduce a toothbrush. You may have to start by simply placing a small amount of toothpaste on the brush and having your dog lick it off. Reward this behavior and gradually begin to add in small brush sessions as you go. 

  • Aim to brush just a few of your dog’s teeth the first few times.

  • Work your way up to brushing your dog’s whole mouth as they become more comfortable with the routine.

  • Try to brush your dog’s teeth after they’ve had a good amount of exercise, so they’ll be more willing to sit still.

  • Talk to your dog soothingly while you brush their teeth to help them relax.

  • Start slowly and call it a day if your dog gets agitated.

  • Reward your dog afterward with a treat — preferably one that’s good for their teeth.

What brush should I use to brush my dog’s teeth? 

Rather than using the guest toothbrush that may be lying around your house, invest in a doggy toothbrush that’s designed to reach the different angles of your pet’s teeth.

Pet toothbrushes are typically softer than your own, so they won’t irritate or damage your furry friend’s sensitive gums. This likely makes the experience better for both you and your dog. It also can help eliminate painful bleeding that can occur when a stiff-bristled human brush is used. 

Many common dog toothbrushes are double-headed and sport a long 9-inch handle that will reach all the angles of your dog’s teeth. This long handle is also critical if you have a larger breed of dog, it can be difficult to reach those back teeth!

The double-heads are typically two different sizes, which helps you brush away tarter no matter the size of your dog’s mouth.

Pro-tip: If you own more than one dog, use a different brush for each pet. Using the same brush could result in spreading germs or infection if one of your dogs is sick.

Should I use toothpaste on my dog’s teeth?

Never use the same toothpaste you use for yourself to brush your dog’s teeth — we are taught at a young age to spit out toothpaste, so we don’t swallow non-edible ingredients, like fluoride.

But since your dog doesn’t know how to spit out toothpaste, they’ll end up swallowing ingredients that can be toxic for them.

Luckily, there is doggy toothpaste that is safe and effective to use during your pet’s tooth brushing routine. Use the toothpaste as recommended by the manufacturer. 

They even come in flavors that are typically tasty to your dog — like poultry or peanut flavor — which could help make brushing your dog’s teeth that much easier. 

How often should I brush my dog’s teeth? 

For most dogs a good brushing two to three times per week will help to keep gum disease and plaque buildup away.³ Building up this routine is important because it also allows you to visually inspect your dog’s mouth multiple times a week. 

The more often you brush your dog’s teeth the more likely of a routine it becomes. You may even get to a point where you can brush your dog’s teeth while they are asleep. 

Chew toys that are good for your dog’s teeth

Although brushing your dog’s teeth is the best way to help keep their mouths healthy, there are certain chew toys that are designed to help improve canine oral health too.

Often these chew toys are easier to implement than a tooth brushing routine because dogs are natural chewers. These toys are made of rubber or hard plastic and have small pieces that stick out and help get in the nooks and crannies of your dog’s teeth. 

Some rope-based toys may even act like floss as your dog chews them, helping to get down in between their teeth to the gumline. 

There are some safety considerations to think about when choosing the perfect chew toy. Make sure you choose chew toys that aren’t too hard, like ice cubes or animal chews (bones, hooves, or antlers), which can chip your dog’s teeth.⁴ Also, make sure that they cannot break off pieces and eat them. 

Flexible, rubber-based chews, pressed pork-hide or doggy dental treats may be a better choice for your dog’s dental health.

Other dental products for dogs

  • Food additives – there are a variety of food additives that can help fight plaque and gingivitis simply by adding it to your dog’s food. These products are highly effective but make sure that you check with your vet before committing. 

  • Mouth sprays – similar to food additives these are a liquid that you spray in your dog’s mouth and rub on their teeth. These are likely useful in combating bad breath. 

  • Dental chews – these treats usually work in two ways; they have plaque fighting chemicals in them and they are shaped to remove plaque. 

Signs of poor oral health in dogs 

Sometimes, no matter how much you brush or care for your dog’s oral hygiene, they still may develop issues down the road. You can help keep your dog’s mouth healthy by looking for these signs of poor oral health.⁵

  • Discoloration of teeth – dog’s teeth rarely stay pearly white forever, however, any major change or shift in color could be a sign that their oral health is deteriorating. 

  • Gingivitis – gingivitis is an infection of the gum tissue. If your dog’s gums are red and puffy it is likely that they are suffering from gingivitis and it may be time for a cleaning. Most dogs show some gum-related issues or mild gingivitis by age three.⁶

  • Cavities – dogs get cavities too, and although we do not drill them and fill them it is important to look for any signs of tooth decay as it could lead to tooth loss later. 

  • Bad breath – a small amount of bad breath is normal, however, anything that is suddenly overpowering or more noticeable could be a sign that your dog needs to see a vet. 

When to take your dog to the vet

Whether you brush your dog’s teeth or not, it is recommended that you should have a look inside your pet’s mouth every week or so to notice any changes which may need to be checked out by your vet.⁷

If you notice any of these potential signs of dental problems, schedule a visit with your dog’s vet: 

  • Discolored, broken or missing teeth

  • Red, tender or bleeding gums

  • Yellowish-brown tartar line along your dog’s gum line

  • Bad breath

  • Change in eating or chewing habits

  • Loss of appetite

  • Pawing at the face or mouth

  • Depression

  • Excessive drooling

  • Crooked or missing teeth

  • Bumps or growths in your dog’s mouth

How often should you get your dog’s teeth cleaned?

Just like you, your dog should have their teeth checked by their vet every six to 12 months⁸. Your dog’s regular vet exams should include a dental checkup, so be sure to ask for one if your visit doesn’t include a dental exam.

If your dog simply can’t stand for you to brush their teeth, you can have them professionally cleaned by your vet. 

What to expect when your dog gets their teeth cleaned

When your vet is checking your dog’s teeth at their routine wellness visit, they may recommend a cleaning if there is a good amount of tartar build-up. 

When dogs go in for a routine cleaning they may have to go under general anesthesia⁹. Dogs simply will not sit still long enough for your veterinarian to clean their teeth. This also helps reduce stress on the dog and allows for better cleaning. 

While your dog is anesthetized the vet will likely do a full inspection of your canines’ mouth. Usually, this begins with an X-ray. The X-ray allows your vet to diagnose any hidden issues before starting their cleaning process.

During this time it is not uncommon for them to find other issues that need to be taken care of, especially if it has been a while since their last cleaning. 

If a tooth is loose or particularly rotten the vet may recommend a tooth extraction. Unlike humans, it is simply not cost-effective to do things like fillings or root canals. They simply remove the tooth. 

After your dog’s cleaning, it is usually advised that you wait before reintroducing hard toys. Your dog’s gums will likely be sensitive and if they have had a tooth removed, they also may have stitches as well. 

When your dog’s mouth has healed you will likely see a noticeable improvement in their dental health, stained teeth are white, and usually, the gums return to a nice pink color. 

How much does it cost to get my dog’s teeth cleaned?

The cost of professional teeth cleaning for your dog can depend on how much care your dog needs, and if your vet advises using an X-ray before the cleaning.

Dental X-rays are important for monitoring the health of your dog’s teeth below their gum line and detecting periodontal disease. But X-rays on pets require anesthesia¹⁰, which can be expensive.

Depending on where you live, the price of a tooth cleaning for your dog could range anywhere from $500 to $1,000¹¹. The cost of a cleaning could be even higher if your dog’s teeth need even more care, like oral surgery or fillings for cavities.

A cleaning could potentially only cost you a few hundred dollars, but you might end up paying more if your dog needs multiple tooth extractions.
Pet insurance can help you reduce the cost of visits to the vet and other dental care costs for your dog. 

Links to external sites are provided for your convenience in locating related information and services. Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees expressly disclaim any responsibility for and do not maintain, control, recommend, or endorse third-party sites, organizations, products, or services and make no representation as to the completeness, suitability, or quality thereof.

Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.


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