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How To Look After A Dog’s Teeth

Can you imagine having a constant toothache, not being able to tell anyone about it and not being able to do anything about it? It hurts when you eat when you woof and just all the time really.

You want your owner to take you to the dog dentist (i.e. the vets) but they don’t understand. If only they could read the signs they might be able to do something about it!

How to look after a dog’s teeth? To clean your dog’s teeth you should use specially formulated toothpaste and brush them every day if you can. You can also use essential oils, bones, dry food, some toys and if all else fails, get your vet to do it for you.

The health of your dog’s teeth and gums shouldn’t be ignored. Learn how to tell when they need you to do something about their teeth and know what you need to do to care for them properly.

Why would your dog’s teeth hurt?

Similar to us, dogs can fall or (more likely) run into something, damaging their teeth. Also, like us, they can get other dental problems such as gum disease.

Remember, dogs are a lot more likely to get problems with their teeth than we are. Firstly, their teeth aren’t (usually) brushed daily (my mum used to say, “You don’t have to clean all your teeth, just the ones you want to keep!”).

Secondly, their saliva is alkaline and unlike ours, this actually encourages plaque rather than helping to reduce it. Gum disease is caused by the build-up of bacteria in your dog’s mouth which through some further processes causes inflammation in their mouth.

This will, eventually, cause damage to both tissue and bone which unfortunately is a precursor to losing teeth. All of this causes pain to your dog as you can imagine.

Dogs can also develop tooth infections and these cannot be treated at home. If this is the case, seek immediate help from your vet.

How do you know that your dog has a toothache?

How To Look After Your Dog's Teeth

Although your dog can’t communicate directly it’s pretty easy to establish that something isn’t quite right.  If you notice any of these signs then it’s a sign that your dog most likely has dental issues:

  • Breath – if you notice your dog has particularly bad breath (it’s never great at the best of times).
  • Saliva – does your dog have blood in its saliva or is it drooling a lot?
  • Eating – has your dog lost its appetite or does it tilt its head to one side when eating (as he’s trying to avoid eating on the painful side). He may even make some noises when eating that is unusual. Does he seem to have trouble when eating his food?
  • Moving away from you – particularly when you go to touch or stroke his head. This may be causing him discomfort so he tries to get away from the thing causing it (you, in this case).
  • Sneezing and/or discharge from the nose – if the gum disease is quite advanced then it’s possible that bone-loss has occurred between the oral and nasal cavity.
  • Unusual bumps in the mouth – if you notice any unusual lumps or bumps in the mouth area it may also be a sign of problems.
  • Blood – If they’re playing with a toy you may notice that they’ve left blood on it after they’ve dropped it.

8 Ways to Clean Your Dog’s Teeth

1. Toothbrush

Ah, the obvious choice. You need to make sure your dog’s teeth are clean so the toothbrush is the obvious answer, right? Well, maybe. Is your dog still a puppy?

If so, you may still be able to do this but if your dog is older, hasn’t been trained properly and hasn’t been introduced to a toothbrush from an early age then this is going to be a struggle for you.

Regardless of when you first decide to try this, the recommendation isn’t to just force the toothbrush into his mouth and clean for two minutes. You knew it wasn’t going to be this easy, right? You will need to take your time about getting your dog accustomed to the process.

They will not like it at first, in fact, they will never really like it as such so it’s not going to be easy for you. Actually, right here is the source of many dental problems in dogs later in their life.

They make such a fuss that you eventually give up and assume everything will be okay. And it might be, but if it’s not it can be quite bad.

  1. Start off slowly, without the toothbrush. Make your dog open their mouth and put your hand in as if you’re expecting their mouth and gums. Which you are. Hopefully, your dog won’t bite you at this point. It’s easy for me, right? But you know your dog better than anyone. They need to be comfortable with a foreign object in their mouth (what will be the toothbrush) and this is why we’re starting with your fingers.
  2. Put a little bit of toothpaste on your fingers and repeat the above, just a little bit mind you. If your hand is still attached to your arm at this point, well done. Always give your dog loads of fuss after they complete this, give them a little treat.  Don’t linger in their mouth for too long at first, just a few seconds but build it up gradually.
  3. Although they don’t like the experience much, they will get used to it and the prospect of loads of attention and a treat at the end of it will help them get through it. It’s all very well them getting attention for it but what do you get for it? I’ll tell you, nothing. Nothing but the love (sometimes) of your dog and the knowledge that you’re doing them some good.
  4. Next, it’s time for the toothbrush! Just for short periods of time and don’t stick it in too far. Build it up over a few days and remember the rewards, make them the same every time.

Within no time you’ll be brushing your dog’s teeth with no problems. Don’t forget to give them a lot of attention and do talk to them throughout the process. The sound of your voice will help their stress levels.

2. Enzymes

What’s an enzyme? An enzyme is a biological catalyst. But hang on a sec, what’s a catalyst? A catalyst is something that will increase the rate of a chemical reaction without being used itself. They are also proteins and these can fold into all kinds of shapes that mean other, smaller molecules can fit inside them.

These are often used for dogs that can’t, for whatever reasons, have an anesthetic. These enzymes (which are available either online or in pet shops/vets) can consume the tartar that’s formed on the surface of the tooth.

You can also get some toothpaste that contains these enzymes which will help remove the tartar by killing the bacteria. However, if you could brush your dog’s teeth then you might not be looking at this option anyway.

3. Essential oils

These are another option if you’re struggling with the toothbrush. These oils which can contain thyme, neem, peppermint or grapeseed (amongst other ingredients) are quite safe and can be applied as either a gel or a spray (which is handy if you don’t want to get your fingers too close to their mouth). 

It works by simply dissolving the tartar and helps also to prevent its build-up in the future. It may be a cliche, but with this one do read the label. Dogs have an amazing sense of smell and as you know, some of these oils (especially the peppermint) can have a very strong odor.

Multiply this several times and it could be too much for your dog. You might need to dilute it before applying it unless it has been specifically manufactured for the canines, then you should be okay, – if it’s a strong smell for you, it’s going to be even stronger for your best friend.

Which is interesting actually as it begs the question as to why they never react when they fart. Anyway, that’s a topic for another article.

The thing to remember here is as long as you don’t overpower your dog with the strong scent, this can’t really do any harm. If you feel you want to give it a go then try it and let us know what results you see in the comments section below!

4. Homeopathy

Firstly, and let’s get this one out there right away, homeopathy is an alternative medicine that is based on a German doctor from the late 18th Century called Samuel Hahnemann. It claims to use the bodies natural defenses to help with ailments, such as plaque build-up.

But before you jump in – and you’re more than welcome to jump in of course – know this: Homeopathy has had several studies performed against it and it has been proven to be as effective as a placebo. Which means, in English, it doesn’t do a thing.

However, some people do choose to ignore these facts and have a go anyway and if you’re one of those people, and I genuinely mean this, please try it and let me know what you think!

If you want to give it a try, Fragaria 6x is one type and the recommendation is to use one or two pellets a day diluted in water as a toothpaste. After a few weeks, it is said to loosen plaque and make it easy to brush off.

5. Bones

How To Look After Your Dog's Teeth

If you tried using the toothbrush method I might be talking about your finger bones (or metacarpals I should probably say) here possibly! So, we all know that dogs like bones as we’ve seen this on cartoons, right?

It’s true also, they do love bones and what’s more – they’re pretty good for their teeth. When your dog chews at the bone the jawbone is exercised, it stimulates the gums and does indeed help to remove tartar from his teeth.

This is great as not only is it fun but it’s doing them good also. It’s like giving your kid broccoli and they love it as it tastes of sweets. If only <sigh>.

However, and you knew this was coming, you do need to be careful about choosing the right bone. You certainly don’t want to give them one small enough for them to swallow or get stuck in their throat, also you don’t want one that will chip and these end up choking them.

So go for something like a femur, which is large and they’ll be in no danger of swallowing.

Other problems with bones that chip is that they can get stuck between their teeth (which admittedly isn’t a massive problem) to more serious things like them getting stuck in their stomach or piercing internal organs.

So, definitely no chicken bones or anything from your steaks that you’ve just finished. Just get the right one from your butcher, they’ll know.

I like this one as it’s simple, natural and it works! Of course, this is prevention rather than a cure but then that’s what this article is all about. It’s certainly not as good as brushing their teeth properly with a brush but it’s a ruddy good alternative!

6. Dried Foods (and the associated myths)

Another possible alternative is dried food. Or is? You’re going to hate me for this but giving your dog dry food isn’t a good way to clean your dog’s teeth.

A lot of people think it is though and I can understand why. The manufacturers obviously want us to buy this dry food and if we think it might improve our dog’s health then we’re more likely to buy it.

From what I’ve seen though, although it may remove an outer-layer of plaque it certainly won’t get to the root of the problem and won’t be your solution.

Sure, give them dry food if they like it – there’s no problem with this at all. Just please don’t think this is a good alternative to sticking a brush into their mouth and cleaning them yourself, it just isn’t.

In fact, there’s evidence out there that suggests that dry food can actually increase plaque and tartar levels rather than reducing them! Please do your own research here if you like but I’m sure after five minutes of looking online (at some decent sources of information) you’ll come to the same conclusion as I.

Personally, I don’t see any harm in it, just as long as you manage your expectations of the results.

If you’d like a recommendation of what type of food you should provide, check out Hill’s Prescription Diet, which is specially formatted to help those doggy teeth.

7. Chew Toothbrush Toys

How To Look After Your Dog's Teeth

It is accepted that dogs that chew have less plaque build-up than those that don’t. These aren’t just toys, they are specially designed to improve your dog’s dental health.

Also, it is of course so much easier to provide your dog with a toy that they can chew on (and enjoy) rather than sticking a toothbrush into their mouths. But is it an alternative to brushing?

Well,  I don’t think anything is really but it is still a great option. Firstly, you’ll find your dog is less likely to chew on your furniture if they have somewhere to direct this tendency and secondly, there are suggestions that the dog will be less anxious after chewing a toy for a bit.

So it’s a great addition to a new home if you think it will help. Although I think the question really is, why wouldn’t you do this?

8. The Vet Option

I may have called this the Vet Option but it may also be your only option if your dog’s teeth are in a bad way. Also, would it not be a good idea to have regular dental check-ups anyway? Us humans are advised to go every six months so why not get your canine friend in every year?

Your dog will need to be put under an anesthetic, which isn’t without risks but they are relatively small these days. It will need to be a decision you take this decision. Bear in mind though that it is 1 in 100,000 dogs that experience some kind of reaction to the procedure.

But what will actually take place at the vets?

  • Gum Cleaning – your vet will spend some time examining the gums for any bacteria below the gum line. They will then thoroughly clean this area if required.
  • Teeth Cleaning – they will polish and scale all your dog’s teeth. This is performed by them scraping the teeth to remove plaque and tartar build-up. This is what our dentists will do to our teeth in our regular check-ups.
  • Teeth Polishing – this isn’t to make your dog look pretty, by performing this the vet will leave a very shiny smooth surface to the tooth and this will help prevent plaque building up on the tooth as it isn’t able to stick to it very easily.
  • Oral Examination – the vet will also perform a full examination and an x-ray (typically) to see if there are any problems underneath the gum-line. This will help spot any future problems in your dog’s teeth before they actually occur.

Your dog should be able to come home the same day, depending on when the procedure took place. They will, of course, brief you on all the results and this is your opportunity to ask any questions and seek advice on how to prevent any of the problems your vet has spotted so they don’t re-occur or get any worse.

When should you take your dog to the vets?

How To Look After Your Dog's Teeth

Assuming you have decided to either have regular check-ups or not to bother with these, when should you take your dog to the vets? This is hardly worthy of a sub-section really as it’s common sense but it’s when the problem gets to a point where there’s nothing you can do at home to make it better. But when is that exactly?

If you notice lumps in their mouth or if you see blood in their drool, this is the time. If they are struggling to eat their food or in obvious discomfort, then this is the time also. In summary, you’ll know when the right time is. Your dog will be acting differently and it’ll be pretty obvious they’re in discomfort.

Ideally though, of course, it will never get to this point but it’s certainly good to look out for the signs just in case you’ve missed something. After all, I brush and floss my teeth every day and I’ve still had to have fillings in the past so you could be doing everything right but still get problems!

How To Look After Your Dog's Teeth

Conclusion – how do you look after your dogs teeth?

I wish you and your doggy all the best. There’s a good chance you came across this article after your dog developed some dental problems. If that’s the case, I hope they are simple to fix and don’t feel bad about giving your local vet a call to get some further advice.

Finally, if you’re wondering which dog I consider to the absolute ‘best‘ – take a look at my article. You may or may not agree…