Dog Dental Care: Ins, Outs, Hows & Whys

by Mary Haight on February 26, 2016

Dog Dental Care

(Photo by Rebekah Pavlovic, Flickr)

Dog dental care is a major factor in the continued health and longevity of your dog. I’m not overstating the facts.

Bacteria from bad teeth cause damage to kidneys, lungs, and in particular heart valve damage. So when Tashi was checked in the Spring of last year and a large build-up of plaque was found on his upper back molars, I was more than a little concerned.

He’s over 16 years old, so really – anesthesia is not an option.

Before I tell you what I did that worked for my dog, I want to share with you some facts about mouth health, bust a myth, offer best options for caring for your dog’s teeth, and 3 simple steps on how to brush your dog’s teeth, all vet-approved of course!

What You Need to Know

We learned the following in a podcast with Dr Apryl Steele:

There were no standard guidelines set by AVMA on performance of dental procedures until the 2014. Dental care was different depending on what region of country you lived in, and could vary from practice to practice in any given area. Now that’s changed.

  • Radiographs are now required on any dog being readied for dental care according to AAHA regulations. They are inexpensive and vital to finding cracked teeth and root problems like abscesses you will never know your dog has. Yes, they are that good at hiding pain.
  • Myth buster – The ultrasound teeth cleaning services offered by groomers, for example, are not actually cleaning the teeth, it’s a cosmetic procedure. All the bacteria sitting under the gumline is still there, and the procedure does not reach the standard as a preventive to dental disease.
  • Checking Alignment of teeth in puppies is a great time to affect future health. If some teeth are in abnormal locations, it’s a good idea to remove them early for a healthy mouth.

Brushing is most effective…chews treats, dental diets, solutions in their water are options. If you have dog with a predisposition to dental problems, you have all these tools are available to help you.

Dog Dental Care Best Practices at Home

Dr Steele said over 90% of plaque accumulates on the outside surface of the teeth – skip the inside. You don’t have to do two minutes, as with your own teeth. Biofilm, a highly organized bacterial colony, builds up on the surface. If you just disrupt that by brushing the teeth, the saliva will wash it away. Brush in an out on each quadrant, and the saliva of the dog will wash it away.

Avoiding disease and pain is the focus.

dog dental care

Photo: Tom Bjornstad, Flickr (See below for full credit)

Here are your 3 easy steps to brushing your dog’s teeth with gauze or a toothbrush meant for dogs (and Canine toothpaste to go with it).

  • Don’t force the mouth open at all, just lift the lips (check the photo above)
  • Brush the surface on one side top and then bottom, same for the other side, then the front teeth.
  • Brush across the teeth, back to front, in and out, not up and down. Get the gum line.

Make it a fun-filled exercise. I’m laughing here a little, but seriously, payment is due! Rewarding with something special afterwards will make the next session much easier on you both.

Note: You must condition your dog to accept your handling his mouth and lips before you try sticking your finger or a brush in there. (Those fingers are pretty useful and you’d miss them, I’m sure…)

When you’re in your dog’s mouth every day, you have the opportunity to catch problems fast.

You’ll learn what “normal” looks like, the tongue, the roof of the mouth, the color of the gums. And what it smells like. Smell is often the first sign of a problem. Prevention works.

And then they start getting older, you’re told everything is fine and the teeth aren’t bad, but suddenly at a ripe old age, a problem comes up. Back to Tashi’s dental care story…

What Worked for My Senior Dog’s Teeth

The vet said the plaque felt soft, so I might be able to work on it every day and remove some if not all of it.

When I got home I remembered a product from Ark Naturals, a brushless chew that cleans plaque, tartar, and bacteria.

Carol Bryant and I had put together a video on these chews some years ago on Animal Cafe. (Let me state here this is not a sponsored post, nor am I an affiliate.) I ordered it online.

After the first couple of days I didn’t notice any great change in those two back teeth. I checked the instructions and for stubborn plaque you can freeze the chew.

I did and crossed my fingers, hoping nothing horrible would happen to his teeth. Shih Tzus are not known for having great teeth. It took him much longer to get through the frozen chew.

A giant piece of plaque popped out of his mouth…I panicked a bit and stared at it hoping none of the tooth was embedded there. I checked his mouth and gum line for any damage and we seemed to have made a clean getaway. I was doing a happy dance — this was dog dental care made easy!

The next day, the other molar’s plaque came off. You may not get the same results, but I am so thankful there are products that can help when there are no advisable alternatives.

Do you brush your dog’s teeth? After all the posts you’ve probably seen this month on dental care, do you think you’re going to try it? What (hopefully successful) stories can you share about your dog’s dental health?


Top Photo Source: By Rebekah Pavlovic – originally posted to Flickr as Those a rawfed teeth, baby., CC BY-SA 2.0,

Second Photo Source: By Tom Bjornstad “Azawakh K9“. (via Wikimedia Commons)

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