Puppy grooming goes beyond hair care and nail clipping and includes many other important preventative health steps including brushing your puppy’s teeth. Puppy breath can be a pleasant aroma when a pooch is quite small, but that can change as your pup ages. While a stinky mouth means you won’t welcome those close snuggles, it also points to potentially painful and dangerous dental problems.
By the time dogs reach the age of three years, many of them have some amount of dental disease. That makes sense since dogs don’t brush their teeth, and just imagine what your teeth would look like in three years if you never brushed! In addition, some breeds are genetically predisposed to dental disease so even with all the right preventative measures, this can still happen to some degree.
Since adult dogs often object to tooth brushing if they are not accustomed to it, it’s best to start puppies with a dental hygiene program when they're young and to use positive reinforcement to make it into a fun part of their routine.
Routine dental cleanings are available from most veterinarians and involve ultrasonic scaling, polishing, dental x-rays and treatment for damaged teeth, including extractions. This must all be done under general anesthesia so it is reserved for occasional use when most needed. The best way to prevent dental disease as your puppy grows up is to provide daily home treatment. Here are six tips to keep your puppy’s teeth clean and bright.
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Home Dental Care
While there used to be a theory that crunching dry food reduces dental problems compared to canned food, in most cases, this is not accurate. Most dental problems arise due to plaque and bacteria at and under the gumline but chewing occurs along the surface of the teeth, far from the gumline. Dogs who eat dry food will not have a noticeable improvement in dental problems.
Many dogs relish healthy people foods like raw veggies or fruit, and chewing on these high fiber foods can help scrub teeth clean and provide good stimulation to the gums. Offer your puppy carrots or apple slices for healthy natural dental snacks.
Special “dental diets” dispensed from your veterinarian can help reduce plaque and gingivitis, which may be especially important for dog breeds that are more prone to dental issues like Yorkshire Terriers. These diets usually have a high fiber content and are intended to be the only food source. Some may not be appropriate for growing puppies if they are formulated only for adult dogs, so be sure to speak with your vet about whether or not these are a good fit.
A wide range of commercial dental chews (rawhide, ropes, treats) available for dogs claim to also prevent doggy breath. Some are infused with special enzymes that claim to kill bacteria and help prevent plaque, however many of these claims are not proven. In many cases, it may not hurt to try these products as long as they are not the sole form of dental hygiene for your dog. In rare cases, some of these products have caused health problems, such as when a piece of a dental chew has gotten stuck in a dog's throat, or around a dog's tooth, so it is always important to supervise your dog closely when it is eating a treat or chew.
There are also many dental rinse products on the market for pets. It is important to keep in mind that the most effective way to prevent dental disease is with products that will act along the gumline and under the gumline, so most rinse products will not be effective in this manner. Be aware that some dental products meant to be added to the water contain xylitol, which in high doses can be toxic to dogs, causing low blood sugar and liver disease, so these should be avoided.
How To Brush a Dog’s Teeth
Whether or not your dog struggles with tooth problems already, the best way to maintain dental health and prevent future problems is to brush your puppy’s teeth. Here’s how:
- Over the course of several weeks, get your puppy accustomed to having his mouth handled. You can get pups used to having something inserted into their mouth by flavoring your finger with low-salt chicken broth, peanut butter, or even a yummy flavored doggy toothpaste. Try clicker training to communicate to your puppy what you want him to do and use lots of praise and additional treats to reward your pup for cooperating. If your dog is reluctant to have its mouth handled, you will need to start with a very gradual approach, and it is recommended to use something other than your finger at first to avoid bites.
- Offer doggy toothpaste as a treat. Special meat-flavored toothpaste is available from pet product stores or your veterinarian and it gives pups the incentive to open wide. Never use human toothpaste. Puppies can’t spit so they end up swallowing the foam, and fluoride can be dangerous if ingested in large quantities.
- Once they accept mouth handling and like the toothpaste, try inserting the toothbrush into the space between their cheek and teeth. You should flavor it with the toothpaste but at first, just reward them for having it in place, don't try to brush right away if they are still warming up to the idea. Practice doing this several times a week and praising them generously for cooperating.
- Special pet toothbrushes are smaller and may be designed to better fit the dog’s mouth. A soft child’s toothbrush also works well.
- Some puppies will accept your finger more easily than a long toothbrush. Finger toothbrushes are available for brushing pet teeth, or simply wrap a damp cloth around your fingers and use that to scrub the outside of his teeth, especially along the gumline.
- Brushing daily is recommended, but even a goal of two to three times a week is a good start. Always be sure to praise your pup and offer affection after so the experience leaves a good taste—literally!