Saturday, February 8, 2014

Cleaning your dog's dirty teeth.

I've had dental health on the mind lately.  Partially because I just went to see the dentist for the first time in two years, but also because I've noticed recently that some of Leopold's back teeth are starting to build up a thick coat of tartar.  There's also some redness along the gumline around the teeth.  These are signs of dental disease!  Oh no!
Another sign of dental disease, also called periodontal disease, can be really bad-smelling breath; and yup, Leopold's breath is kind of funky right now (I just took a sniff. Eww).

Just like humans, dogs can get dental disease.  From my experiences, its pretty common that they do.  The majority of older dogs that I see at the clinic have some degree of dental disease, and some of the oldest dogs I work with have breath that could wilt a redwood because of the severity of their dental disease.  Aside from malodorous breath, dental disease can cause serious, negative health effects not only in your dogs mouth, but in its entire body.  I'm not going to go into details, but many of the same dental issues that can affect humans can also affect dogs.

So the question is... how do you clean your dog's dirty teeth?
Here's my answer:

One of Leopold's favorite games is "brushing teeth".  Here he is waiting
patiently for me to put toothpaste on the brush and start the game.
1.  Brush your dog's teeth.
It seems to me that brushing a dog's teeth still hasn't quite caught on in the dog owner community.  It's starting to, but it still seems that the majority of dog owners (at least the ones I know) do not brush their dogs teeth.  Help get this trend going!  Brushing your dog's teeth will prevent or delay the need for a professional dental cleaning, prevents the need for tooth extraction, helps with bad breath issues, and can be a fun activity for your dog!  My dogs actually really like to have their teeth brushed.  They like the attention and they like the flavor of their dog tooth paste (so the toothpaste is like a treat for them!).  For some tips on brushing your dog's teeth, check out a post I wrote a while back.
Brushing your dog's teeth will help clean them because dog toothpastes are specially formulated to help break down plaque buildup via enzymatic activity.  I should note that you should never use human toothpaste on a dog because its harmful if swallowed, and a dog is guaranteed to swallow it.

I try to brush my dog's teeth as often as I can remember, but sometimes it only gets done twice a month.  Sad face.  I've been trying harder, lately, to remember to brush their teeth every day--especially since I've noticed Leopold's dental disease.  I leave their toothbrush and toothpaste sitting near my computer on my desk; that way I see it and it reminds me to brush their teeth.  Some people like to brush their dogs' teeth right after they brush their own as a way to remember.

2.  Give your dog bones to chew on.
Leopold chewing on an antler.
I provide my dogs with real bones, synthetic bones (Nylabones), and antlers to chew on.  (Though I only leave the Nylabones on the floor for them to access at all times.  I keep real bones and antlers up away until I can be in the same room with them to supervise.  Here's a post explaining why I do this.)
Leopold doesn't seem to like to chew on bones without some encouragement.  I've tried dipping a bone in chicken broth to entice him, which worked well enough.  He really enjoys antlers, however, so I usually go that route with him.
Halo, on the other hand, chews on her Nylabone daily, and loves to chew any bone she can get her paws on.  As a result, her teeth look pretty good!
The reason is that chewing on bones scrapes plaque and food residue off the teeth.  If there's no plaque and food bits, there's nothing for bad bacteria to live on; bad bacteria are the cause of dental disease, so if the bacteria have nothing to live on, dental disease won't happen!

To help fight off Leopold's current dental disease, I plan on making sure he spends a little time chewing on an antler every day.  I've done this for two days so far and already some of the tartar has chipped off and some of the redness has gone away.  woo-hoo!

3.  Take your dog in for a dental cleaning.
I've not had to do this yet for my dogs, so I can't relate any personal experience.  My goal is to never have to bring my dogs in for a dental cleaning.  From my understanding, dog dental cleanings can be done by most veterinarians, though specialized veterinarians, dog dentists if you will, do exists.  Usually the procedure involves some sort of sedative or anesthesia.  I've heard of some professionals who are skilled at cleaning dog teeth without sedatives or anesthesia, but I imagine it depends a great deal on the dog.

4.  Feed your dog a healthy diet.  
Just like humans, a crappy doggy diet is bad news for doggy teeth and dental care.  I haven't done a post on doggy diet yet, but I'm planning on it because there's more to say than I want to say right now in this post about teeth.  So stay tuned.

5.  Pay attention to the state of your dog's teeth!
If possible, don't leave it up to your veterinarian to examine your dog's mouth.  The first step to keeping your dog's teeth clean is knowing when they're not!  I look at my dogs' teeth at least once a week, sometimes more often.  I've noticed Leopold's molars building up more and more plaque, but recently I noticed redness.  I noticed because I've been looking.
At this point, my dogs are very used to me lifting up their lips to look at their teeth.  I usually do it as part of normal doggy attention time.  I give them some pets, then look at their teeth real quick, then give them more pets.  In other words, its a positive experience, so they safely let me do it.

I'm optimistic that with diligent bone chewing time and teeth brushing, I'll be able to reverse the dental disease that has started to occur in Leopold's mouth.  Of course, if it doesn't work after all, I'll be looking to visit a dog dentist in the near future, as I want to help my dogs live as healthy and happy a life as I know they deserve.

I hope this post helps you if you're in the same situation.
If nothing else, I hope this post helps put "dog dental health" on your radar! :-)


  1. Great post. This article is really very interesting and informative. I think its must be helpful for every dogs dental health. Thanks for sharing your nice post about Cleaning your dog's dirty teeth.
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  2. Thank you for the post! A lot of people don't realize the importance of maintaining good oral health for their pets. The most common disease that animals are diagnosed with at veterinary clinics is dental disease.

  3. Cleaning dog's teeth is very tedious job. You can give a small peace of wood which your dog can chew and get its teeth cleaned on its own. Thanks for sharing this article. I hope found it very helpful.

    Best Regards,
    Perrie Jinnie
    Pet Grooming Tips