I remember having a conversation with my sister a few years ago, about how much I detest flossing my teeth. Her reply was simply, “Well, you only need to floss the teeth you want to keep.”
After that, I pretty much started flossing every day. It only takes a minute, and is good preventative medicine.
The same goes for our dogs. Dog dental care only takes a minute or two to brush your dog’s teeth, but offers a whole host of benefits for your best friend, and for you down the road when you don’t have to pay for costly doggie dental care at the vet.
Do I brush my dogs’ teeth every day? Heck no! (I should!!) But I do brush them. I also feed an appropriate diet and offer chew-things that will support my dogs’ dental health.
Benefits of Proper Dog Dental Care
Health Benefits: Statsitics have shown that by the age of 3, up to 80% of dogs have developed some sort of tooth or gum disease. Tarter building up on your dog’s teeth can lead to stinky breath, red gums, and more insidious implications like pain, loose teeth, and heart, liver, and kidney disease. Bacteria from the gums can travel through the bloodstream to those organs.
Regular brushings at home can keep that tartar and those issues at bay, at least for some time.
Spotting Abnormalities: If you do inspect and brush your dog’s teeth at home regularly, you’re more likely to notice if something is amiss. Your dog will become accustomed to having your hands near/in his mouth and you will notice any lumps, bumps, bleeding, soreness, or fractured teeth that should be addressed by a vet.
Do address any abnormalities with a professional, as treating them at home can cause your pet unnecessary discomfort and potentially make problems worse.
Tartar: When your dog eats, plaque starts to form on his teeth a couple of hours later. It then combines with your dog’s saliva, hardens and turns to tartar. This is the stuff you can’t get off with a brushing, and needs to be cleaned by a vet during a full dental cleaning.
Tartar is the nasty stuff that causes bacteria growth and can lead to tooth decay and loss. Brushing your dog’s teeth regularly will help keep the plaque buildup at bay.
Vet Bills: This is a huge factor in many people’s minds. It is EXPENSIVE to have your dog’s teeth cleaned at the vet. So far, Birdie was the only dog who we’ve sent to the vet for a dental cleaning, and it was during a time she was under anesthesia for something else. I can’t place the exact cost now, but it was somewhere around $600!
According to an article by Pet MD, a dental cleaning for your dog can cost anywhere from $500-$1000 depending on the treatment and any potential extractions your dog needs.
Most pet insurances consider dental care as routine health care, so unless you have a robust (and likely costly plan), then dental care is likely not covered by your pet insurance plan. Obviously it’s a good idea to read the fine print on your pet health insurance.
My belief is that if you can conduct safe, healthy preventative care at home, then you should take the measures you can to improve your dog’s health. It’s also a good idea to have a pet-vet-fund to cover expenses like these as your dog ages and make sure your best friend isn’t in any pain that you can prevent! It’s very likely that your dog WILL need a professional dental cleaning at some point in his life, and it’s best to be prepared!
This is not a recommendation to skip your dog’s dental cleaning at the vet because of the cost, but it is a factor to be aware of.
Ways to Keep Your Dog’s Teeth Clean at Home
Dental Chews: Since I promote more natural health for your best friend, I am not sharing mass-produced dental chew recommendations. I don’t believe they are all bad. In fact, there are many beneficial options on the market, but this is not my area of expertise. There are cases of dogs having similar health problems with dental chews as commercially produced food. These include allergies, reactions to subpar ingredients and stomach problems.
Most mass-produced, edible dental chews are also bound together with carbohydrates and starches, which is the basis for the problematic plaque in the first place!
Raw Meaty Bones: This is how our dogs’ ancestors clean their teeth in the wild. Wolves gnaw on the bones of their prey to clean their teeth after a meal. I notice that my dogs gravitate right to their chew bones (full disclosure: my dogs are chewing on commercially produced “wood” bones so I don’t have raw meaty bones lying around the house) when they’re done eating. Dogs have a natural tendency to chew and it’s quite satisfying for them!
There are some precautions to take into consideration when sharing raw bones with your best friend.
- Feed Raw Bones Only: Cooked bones can splinter and cause injury to your dog’s mouth, throat, or digestive system. Smoked bones or antlers can be too hard and cause damage or cracking to your dog’s teeth.
- Avoid “Dense” bones: The leg bones of large animals like bison or cows are made to bear the great weight of the animal. Because of this, their leg bones are really dense. Your dog can crack or break a tooth on a dense leg bone.
- Choose “Right-Sized” Bones: Bones that are too large and dense may cause broken teeth, and bones that are too small may be swallowed and cause a choking hazard. Bones should be larger than your dog’s mouth so he can chew off pieces of the bone (it’s OK for your dog to swallow small pieces of raw bone.) For small dogs, you should be able to cut the bone with kitchen scissors, otherwise it is too big and too hard.
- Choose Meaty Bones: The scraping action from your dog grinding his teeth on the bone is good for cleaning the teeth, but pulling savory bits of meat, gristle, and cartilage from the bone acts as the actual “brushing” and “flossing” for your dog. Meaty bones are kind of stinky and messy, but so beneficial for your dog!
- Supervise Your Dog: Your dog should be gnawing on a meaty bone 2-3 times a week, for about 15-30 minutes at a time. Don’t throw the bone in the yard and let your dog at it. Make sure they are in the same room with you while enjoying their bones, then take away the bone and store it in the refrigerator after the time is up.
Tooth Brushing: Once it becomes part of your routine, brusing your dog’s teeth is a simple task! If your dog’s teeth are healthy now, aim for 3 days a week to keep them that way.
Use a dog-specific toothbrush. They’re angled correctly, feature a long handle to get to those hard-to-reach back teeth, and have softer bristles than human brushes, which can cause damage to your dog’s gums. These are a great step in proactive dog dental care!
Use Dog Specific Toothpaste: There are some good dog products on the market, and you can make your own natural doggie toothpaste and control the ingredients your dog ingests. Here are some recipes from Rover.
Some mass-produced dog toothpastes are poultry and peanut butter flavored, which are quite appealing to our canine friends. NEVER use human toothpaste on your dogs, as they contain ingredients that are harmful.
Appropriate Diet: Of course, keeping your dog’s teeth clean starts with a healthy, balanced, species approprite diet. I recently had a conversation with someone about kibble and canine dental health. She mentioned that her dog ate kibble to “scrub” the teeth and keep them clean. I think this is a common misconception-that kibble’s rough texture scrubs and cleans our dog’s teeth.
It does not! Kibble is “glued” together with a carbohydrate base, which is the sticky part that sticks to your dog’s teeth and causes plaque buildup in the first place.
Feeding a raw diet can help aid in plaque buildup. Raw meat and bones contain enzymes and abrasive bits that break down food material and keep plaque off your dog’s teeth. Vegetables such as carrots and broccoli also scrape away food debris and offer great nutritional benefits too!
Keep Those Pearly-Whites That Way!
Wally wakes me up EVERY DAY between 5 and 7 AM for breakfast. He’s the timekeeper in our home. When he noses up to my face, he indulges in a few long, languishing yawns to show off his pearly whites and exhale his (somewhat) fresh dog breath. Maybe he’s telling me that he wants to chew some food, maybe it’s something else I’m not sure of.
What I am sure of is that at 3 years old, his dental health is stellar. It takes a little work, and to be honest, I should be more consistent with my dogs’ dental care and regular brushings. I am quite sure that it is worth the time and effort to keep your dogs’ teeth clean. From the standpoint of their overall health, well being, and overall longevity.
Do you brush your dog’s teeth? How else do you practice dog dental care? I’d love to see in the comments!