Dental Care and Teethbrushing in Dogs

By Dr Hannah

Dental disease is one of the most common problems seen in general veterinary practice with most dogs suffering from dental disease at some point in their life. And many dogs do require regular dental procedures in order to keep their teeth healthy.

But, there are things we can do to help prevent and manage dental disease, from a puppy onwards and as our canine companions go through their life.

Firstly, a little background on dental disease itself. Dental disease would present most commonly as ‘periodontal disease’– which is inflammation and infection of the sensitive tissue around the tooth.

Not only can this be painful, but it may also cause decay of deeper tissues – including the bone, it may cause active bleeding in the mouth and there may even be infection that travels to other areas of the body.

Dogs are fairly stoic when it comes to discomfort vs food, and – you may be surprised how much pain a dog will put up with to enjoy their favourite meal! Hats off to them, they can be very brave when needed!

But, of course what we really want is for our pets to have minimal dental disease, and enjoy a pain free meal.

The gold standard of dental care is prevention of dental disease, and – though not always an easy task, teeth brushing is the best recommendation we can make.

Now, though it sounds intensive, this probably best to start at a young age.

And, as the bacterial matrix in the mouth builds up quickly, teeth brushing is most effective if done once daily. This may seem like a lot, though – when seen another way, this could easily fit in with the daily routine, making it easier to remember AND more intuitive for our pet. 

Some of the things that can make teeth brushing challenging are: our pet being ‘head shy’ – reluctance to have their mouth handled, difficulty with handling/restraint/depending on the size of dog, and the possibility of already have dental inflammation and discomfort.

And of course there are human factors, for example: not feeling confident with the technique, difficulty reaching the teeth in the back of the mouth and being unable to brush teeth frequently.

If introducing teethbrushing to an adult dog: my biggest tip would be to patiently make teeth brushing into a safe, positively reinforced situation, which your dog will come to love, rather than evade.

Start small – introducing the tooth paste only: allowing them to lick this, in time seeing if possible to rub your finger across the gumline, and lastly build up to the toothbrush in the mouth. Aiming, slowly to build up to daily brushing. Always positively reinforce at the end of brushing with consistent language and praise – maybe a particular phrase, and possibly a small healthy treat.

It is ok if your dog will only tolerate a few seconds at first – much better to play the long game and allow them to leave if they want, soon they will hopefully learn to love the experience, and know that they get a nice reward at the end.

There are lots of different pet toothpastes available (important for the toothpaste to be pet safe – not containing fluoride), and brushes. I really like the rubber finger brushes and find they are usually better tolerated then a long stick brush. Human baby toothbrushes may also work well for small dogs.

If you have a young dog – we’re at a huge advantage! As – though we don’t need to start teeth brushing until our adult teeth come through – this is a fantastic time to get your pet used to having their mouth and teeth handled.

So, even if your puppy still has their baby teeth, I would recommend, once daily using your finger to run across their gumline, again using consistent language and lots of praise or positive reinforcement when this goes well! This helps them learn that is a fun part of their routine, which will continue into their adult life.

In terms of monitoring, every time you have a vaccine or clinical exam at the vets, the vet is likely to examine your dogs teeth – and in a preventative health consult, the vet may be able to discuss if your dog has any dental disease, and if so what stage this is at. And, if any further action that is needed.

Some clinics run nurse appointments for this which can be a really good way of having this check regularly. Young dogs and young adult dogs usually need their teeth checked once a year, but older dogs or dogs with existing dental disease may need this doing once every 6 months.

It is also worth noting – if our pets dental disease is at a certain stage, it maybe that a dental clean or dental procedure in clinic is the best way forward – this is something that your in-person vet team would be able to guide you on.

Lastly, some of the veterinary dental prescription diets can also be really fantastic, though they are not a replacement for teethbrushing, they may be a good addition if wanting to be as complete as possible in their dental care.

Does your dog suffer with dental disease? Speak with one of the UK-registered vets at The Net Vet for a detailed dental health plan tailored to your dog. Our veterinarians can assess your dog’s teeth, talk you through how to brush them and discuss any other changes you can implement into your dog’s life to improve their dental health.

Video – A veterinarian speaking through and demonstrating the teeth brushing technique