Proper Dental Care Can Help Your Dog Live A Longer, Healthier Life

A woman inspects the teeth of a Golden Retriever.

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Unfortunately, many pet parents never look inside their dog’s mouth. That’s a shame because up to 80% of dogs have significant oral pathology.

A dogs’ mouth is the ideal incubator for all kinds of bacteria to thrive, partly because the mouth is warm and moist and has nutrients present for organisms to grow on. Many of these bacteria are normal, but once plaque and tartar form on the teeth, things can get out of balance quickly. If pathogenic organisms proliferate, it’s big trouble for your canine pal. 

A Parson Terrier portrait in front of a white background. The terrier's mouth is open and his tongue hangs out.

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Foul breath can be one indicator of a problem, but the effects of poor dental health go far beyond “doggie breath” and present a major risk to your dog’s overall health and longevity. Oral health issues can lead to heart, liver and kidney disease. That’s because the toxins from periodontal disease are absorbed into animals’ blood stream. As the kidneys, liver and brain filter the blood, small infections occur causing permanent and sometimes fatal organ damage. Many pet parents seem surprised when a routine veterinarian exam points out to them that their dog’s teeth are loose or sore, the gums are infected, or the tooth sockets are rotting. These conditions can be extremely painful for the animal.

A Labrador puppy gets a dental exam at the vet while his owner holds him.

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Having your veterinarian treat existing periodontal disease and giving your dog proper home hygiene care will make all the difference. Most dogs respond well due to decreased pain and infection. Anything you can do to prevent oral issues is well worth the time and effort. 

A 1996 study published in the Journal of Veterinary Dentistry recommends daily tooth-brushing irrespective of the dietary regime your dog is on. How do you get started? Begin a dental care routine as early as possible in your dogs’ life so he or she gets used to it. Most veterinarians are happy to provide brushing lessons, and they often carry brushes and toothpastes made specifically for dogs.

A young lady cleans her Labrador's teeth with a brush and special toothpaste.

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Do not use human toothpaste! It’s not tasty to dogs, but more importantly it’s sudsy and meant to be rinsed out and not swallowed. Pet toothpastes formulated for dogs are enzymatic, meaning that they offer greater cleansing action on both plaque and food debris, and can be swallowed. Most dogs prefer meat-flavored toothpastes such as beef or chicken. Start with a small sample to find a flavor your dog likes. 

When you begin this home dental care, be careful and go slowly to avoid being bitten if your dog is resistant, and gentle to avoid doing harm to the dogs’ mouth. Start with a small amount of the toothpaste to allow the pet to get used to it, letting them smell and taste it while encouraging them with praise. Add the brush or cleaning tool once you feel comfortable and your dog knows what to expect. Don’t worry too much about brushing the inside of the teeth by the tongue: that area is cleansed with saliva. Brush gently with strokes starting at the gum. 

This dog toothbrush is available on Amazon, and it comes highly recommended. 

An elderly man brushes a puppy's teeth with a red finger toothbrush.

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Be sure you select a brush size that is appropriate for your pet’s mouth and make sure it has soft bristles. Some dogs can’t tolerate a brush. If that’s the case, there are alternative cleaning tools you can use. Consider a finger-tip brush or cloth instead. There are a range of oral cleaning tools for dogs, like these soft finger toothbrushes available on Amazon.

Bones and chew toys can also help keep teeth clean. Kong dental toys are durable and not consumable. Just be sure to choose a size appropriate for your dog. There are also a variety of biscuits and treats for tartar control like these Dingo Dental chews available on Amazon, but be mindful of the calories and your dogs overall weight when you use them. Hill’s pet foods offers Tarter Diet with a “scrubbing” effect on tarter that some vets recommend. Check with your veterinarian to find out if this is a good option for your dog.

A Cocker Spaniel takes a treat from its owner's hand.

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One of the best ways to insure optimum oral health is to feed your dog with a well-balanced meat-based dog food. Meat actually assists in keeping the mouth environment healthy. Coupled with chew treats that require some “exercising” of the teeth that keep mouth structures vital and the regular brushings, you will be improving your dog’s oral health and overall well-being.

One veterinarian who specializes in canine dental care explains it simply, saying “When a client asks me how long their puppy will live, I usually respond 15-17 years if you brush their teeth daily…11-13 years if you don’t.” That’s a powerful statement bluntly pointing out how important proper dental care for your dog really is.

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