Canine Dental Hygiene

Did you know February is Pet Dental Health Month? It’s time to talk about keeping your dog’s pearly whites, well, pearly white.

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Brushing your dog’s teeth can potentially add five years to their lifespan by staving off things like periodontal disease. Interestingly, most vets estimate Suki to be four or five years younger than she is based on her dental condition.

While I’ve often thought about it, I haven’t had a professional cleaning done for Suki. I’m not really comfortable putting her under anesthesia for it and I haven’t found a vet willing to even evaluate her for an anesthesia-free cleaning. With her mild tartar build-up, healthy gums, and being conditioned to having her mouth handled a less invasive cleaning should be fine for her. It’s important to note that not all dogs are candidates for anesthetic-free cleaning. Dogs with a lot of plaque and tartar build-up could swallow too much of the bacteria and get sick, plus a cleaning of that amount would be painful. Dogs that aren’t okay having their mouths handled could also be injured from the dental instruments. It’s important to carefully research a groomer offering dental cleaning, as doing it improperly can leave scratches in the enamel that then trap and hold bacteria and actually cause worse plaque buildup. After scaling the teeth should be polished to remove any micro-scratches, and not all groomers do that or even know to do that. I wish more veterinarians would consider evaluating for anesthetic-free cleaning, and speak honestly to owners about the pros and cons of each procedure.

Contrary to popular belief, no diet can be a true stand-in for brushing. While dry kibble is often touted as a dental cleaner, it’s probably the worst option as a stand-in for dental care. Think of chewing a cracker or hard biscuit, which turns into a paste and actually adheres to teeth. Chewing on raw bones or antlers will help scale away some tartar, but it’s not sufficient on its own nor is a raw diet. In fact, periodontal disease is not that uncommon in wolves. Think of dental chews as a supplement to teeth brushing, like flossing.

It’s recommended that you brush your dog’s teeth at least three times a week, but up to twice a day is even better. Suki gets her teeth brushed every night, and it’s just become a normal part of the nightly routine. I use an infant or toddler toothbrush and Tom’s of Maine children’s  flouride-free toothpaste.

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If you buy children’s toothpaste for your dog make sure there us no flouride or xylitol in it, as it’s extremely poisonous to dogs. Xylitol is in lots of toothpastes because it’s sweet (replacing sugar) and it may have dental health benefits for people. In dogs though those possible dental benefits are overridden by the severe hypoglycemia, seizures, liver failure, and death that xylitol causes them. So far Tom’s is the only company I know of that has dog-friendly ingredients in their children’s toothpastes, but I always check to make sure they haven’t started adding it (note: Their Silly Strawberry and Wicked Cool flavours are still xylitol free, but their Mild Fruit toddler toothpaste in the mini tube does contain xylitol).

When brushing Suki’s teeth I start with her canines, then work my way back to her molars, brushing both the outer and inner side of the teeth. While it’s beneficial to brush every side of every tooth, if your dog fights tooth cleaning then whatever you can manage is definitely better than nothing. Start slow at first, just brushing the canine teeth,  and work up from there. I find it easiest to face the toothbrush backwards, with the handle towards Suki’s cheek.

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Lastly I brush her incisors. I’ve found as she’s gotten older the gaps between these teeth have gotten a bit bigger, and they’re the teeth she’s most likely to have food stuck in. I brush both across these teeth and downwards from the gum line to dislodge any stuck food.

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That’s it! It takes just a few extra minutes each night, but the benefits are astronomical.

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