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Dog Dental Care 101

As humans, oral health is very important: we brush our teeth twice daily, floss, use mouthwash, and visit the dentist twice a year for cleanings and exams. 
Written by Stephanie Olson
But what about our pets? Sadly, the majority of dog owners don’t look at their pet’s oral health with the same importance: most dogs over the age of 3-5 have some degree of periodontal disease, with some dogs such as toy breeds accumulating tartar and dental disease as early one year old.  
 
February was National Pet Dental Health month—but shouldn’t every month be dental health month for our pets? Cherri Trusheim, DVM, owner and veterinarian at Urban Animal in Seattle, definitely thinks so.
 
“Ideally, dogs teeth are brushed daily by their owners: brushing or some form of mechanical (wipes, etc.) to inhibit the formation of plaque and tartar,” she said. “The majority of dog owners do NOT brush teeth for obvious reasons. Getting dogs used to having their mouths handled at a young age is key.”
 

Trusheim started practicing veterinary medicine in 1999, after finishing vet school and starting an internship. She opened Urban Animal five years ago, with a mission to provide affordable veterinary care provided by highly skilled/trained veterinarians and medical staff. Her clinic tends to be less strict when it comes to recommending traditional teeth cleanings, where patients are put under general anesthesia for a deep cleaning of each tooth and under the gum line.
 
“Many veterinarians recommend routine dental cleanings—every 6-12 months—under anesthesia. Urban Animal tends to be a bit more conservative based on the concerns for repeated general anesthetic events during a dog’s life,” Trusheim said. “There are no studies to understand the long term effects of repeated general anesthesia events.  For this reason, we try to balance the benefit vs. the potential down sides including stress to the dog.”
 
Alternatives to traditional anesthesia teeth cleanings are non-anesthesia teeth cleanings. Your dog is not asleep during this procedure, but is instead physically restrained, while the technician performing the cleaning removes the top layer of visible plaque from the tooth. Also called a tooth scaling, Trusheim isn’t a fan, as it really only removes what’s visible to the naked eye and can be traumatic for some dogs.
 

“Not all dogs are candidates for non-anesthetic dentistry. It can also be stressful for some dogs.  It is important that pet owners know the qualifications of the individual performing the procedure, too,” she said.
 
In terms of dental chews or bones, Trusheim recommends looking for chews that aren’t too hard, but that are enticing enough for your pet to want to chew them. 
 
“The simple mechanical action of chewing on something like rawhide can be beneficial. Then there are treated rawhide strips that combine the mechanical action with enzymatic or chemical reaction to help keep tartar and plaque from forming. Owners should be aware of very hard chew toys that can cause tooth fractures in powerful chewers.”
 
Bottom line: daily maintenance and regular check-ups with your vet are the best way to prevent periodontal disease. 
 
“At the end of the day, everyone would agree it would be best for dogs to have teeth that are pearly white and tartar free. What are the lengths owners are willing to go to in order to make this happen? If they are doing the maintenance at home, that is best,” Trusheim said. “If tartar is allowed to build up, at what point should a dentistry be performed? This is somewhat of a personal and philosophical conversation. There will come a time in most dog’s lives when the benefit of dental work will outweigh any potential downsides.” 
 

Tips on How to Maintain and Improve Your Dog's Dental Health


Make daily teeth maintenance easy and fun for all! Follow these suggestions by Bethany Wright, licensed veterinary technician with Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s dentistry and oral surgery, to get your dog started on the right tooth for daily oral care.
 
  • Start by gently petting the muzzle of your pet and praise them for accepting.
  •  
  • Once your pet is comfortable with this, can vary from a few days to a week, lift the lip to start rubbing your finger along the gums. Feel free to use the toothpaste or peanut butter, whatever is their favorite, to encourage acceptance.
  •  
  • Work up to the toothbrush, with or without the toothpaste, and brush just the outsides of the teeth facing the lips and cheeks using a circular motion to also include the gums for a minimum of 60 seconds daily.
  •  
  • Choose a time in your schedule that works best for you and your pet. A common one is when you brush your own teeth, do theirs before or after. This scheduled time allows everyone to succeed.
  •  
  • Finally, congratulate yourself on a job well done and don’t forget to praise your furry friend too!

Now aside from using toothbrush and toothpaste, you can also give your pooch some dog dental treats that she can chew and nibble on whenever she wants! These treats have dental benefits that can be a nice, fun addition to your dog's daily oral care. Looking for some suggestions? We got you covered!

Related Content: Best Dental Treats for Dogs


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