Dog oral health is extremely important, especially as a preventative strategy to ward off disease later in life. February is dog dental health month, so we at dogtrotting.net are exploring some ways to clean your dog’s teeth at home including using dog chews, water additives, and even canine toothpaste.
Yes, here’s how to brush your dog’s teeth.
Apparently, brushing your dog’s teeth once a day is a great idea. Realistic? If you’re doing it, good job. But if you’re like most of us, brushing your dog’s teeth even occasionally is a remarkable achievement. Of course, the more you do it, the more they’ll get used to it and the cleaner their teeth will be.
Few people do it at all, understandably, because brushing your dog’s teeth isn’t always easy nor common practice.
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Why should you clean your dog’s teeth?
Here are the facts: Brushing a dog’s teeth can reduce plague build up; it’s that plaque that puts your dog at risk of ‘dog breath’ (which isn’t natural), gum disease and tooth decay leading to expensive vet bills for dental care later. Bacteria can even enter the pet’s body through the gums, potentially causing life-threatening illnesses of the kidneys, lungs, and heart.
According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), in most patients, periodontal disease is a preventable condition. In fact, the AAHA recommends a complete prophylaxis – dental cleaning, polishing and x-rays – once a small-to-medium size dog is one year old. Two years is the date for bigger dogs. Then do dental cleanings at regular intervals after that.
Between professional cleanings, home care is important.
So, the key is to keep plague from building up into tartar – tartar needs to be scrapped off by a veterinary dental hygienist. Remove plague before it becomes tartar.
The most obvious way to clean your dog’s teeth at home is the same way people do it: brushing.
How do you clean your dog’s teeth at home?
Yes, there are toothbrushes designed for dogs – most are ‘finger’ brushes that you put on your finger like a thimble and run over dog’s teeth. The latter isn’t recommended for big dogs for obvious reasons – you don’t want to lose a finger at the knuckle trying to clean your dog’s back molars.
In some cases, dog toothbrushes with long handles are the best option. And dog toothpaste. You’ll need dog toothpaste, not people toothpaste.
When you attempt to brush your pet’s teeth, don’t hold the dog down or stand over them in a threatening way. The idea is to make it a positive experience. Brush when they are calm and relaxed is the advice vets give regarding dog teeth brushing. Good advice, but if you have a crazy Sprocker like I do, you’ll be waiting a long, long time.
So, I chose to skip that step and just go for it.
How do you brush your dog’s teeth?
STEP ONE: Let the dog try the toothpaste. Dog toothpaste is supposed to be a flavour they love, so they’ll look forward to ‘eating’ it. They should like the taste. We tried Petsmile, a cheese flavoured toothpaste designed to remove plague from dog’s teeth. (It comes with an angled canine toothbrush).
STEP TWO: With the toothpaste on the brush, lift the upper lip and rub the bristle along the gum line at a 45-degree angle. Getting the teeth ‘white’ isn’t the goal – getting the tartar off the gum line is. Move the brush along in circular motion. Watch for excessive bleeding. End by brushing vertically to flick off tartar.
Two minutes is enough. Get the outsides of the canine teeth and the back teeth where plaque collects. Brushing the insides of the teeth is not necessary thanks to a rough tongue.
STEP THREE: End with love and treats.
Brushing is one way to regularly remove plague from a dog’s teeth, and it’s likely the best way at home. However, water supplements are another, and dental chews seem like the easiest solution – if your dog chews them.
What’s the pros, cons, and success rate of each method? That depends on you and your dog.
Let’s look at processes and products that clean your dog’s teeth between prophylaxis treatments:
1. Brushing a Dog’s Teeth with a Toothbrush and Toothpaste
Brushing the dog’s teeth with Petsmile cheese-flavoured toothpaste and curved brush was easier than I thought, thanks primarily to the fact the dog toothpaste is a flavour she actually wanted to taste. Rubbing all the teeth quickly with the brush was odd for her, but not uncomfortable.
I partially attribute this to me touching her mouth and putting my hand in her mouth a lot since she was very young for two reasons: first, our puppy training classes told us to do this to get dogs used to some almost invasive touching early.
Second, she eats so much random stuff from the ground we play ‘what’s in your mouth’ daily, if not several times a day. That’s the main reason puppy classes suggested we get the dogs used to having their mouths touched.
Admittedly, I will likely not brush her teeth daily – that’s more than I have time or energy for – but I will do it regularly, at least once a week. Last vet check concluded her teeth and gums looked good.
2. Brushing a Dog’s Teeth with a Finger Brush
Oxyfresh claims to be the best pet dental solution ‘paws’ down. We first met the Oxyfresh team at SuperZoo (pre-pandemic) where they were promoting their dental kit: dental spray, pet gel toothpaste, and three finger brushes. A starter-sized kit is a good way to try the product, and dogtrotting received one to review. Of course, long term use is the only way to determine if Oxyfresh is effective.
The spray is designed to beat bad dog-breath without harmful ingredients such as clove, mint, or alcohol. When we gave it a squirt, the spray did improve dog breath without making it smell like something else. The idea is to spray the dog’s tongue AND both sides of the teeth. The latter, I couldn’t do, but a quick spray on the tongue is easy.
But the cleaning is the real test: instead of a toothbrush, this system uses a washable plastic finger brush, which looks like it would be easier to use than a toothbrush. It wasn’t – for me, anyway. I struggled to work it all around my dog’s teeth – a problem I didn’t have with an actual toothbrush.
But if you’re able to do it (maybe with some help hold in your dog), I can see how this silicon brush would be very effective, actually cleaning teeth and massaging the gun line. Oxyfresh recommends brushing two to three times a week, which is a little more realistic than one a day.
With a bit of practice, my dog and I might master the Oxyfresh dental system. The dog toothpaste gel had an odd smell to me, but my dog wasn’t bothered by either the smell or taste. He just wondered why my finger was in his mouth.
3. Adding Dental Additives to a Dog’s Water
Products: Oxyfresh and TEEF!
Also, Oxyfresh makes a Pet Dental Water Additive – add a capful to the dog’s water bowl and this should help tartar build-up.
Similarly, TEEF! Is another water additive product we found through SuperZoo connections. TEEF! claims to be easier than brushing (and if it works, it is) because all you do is add a scoop to your pet’s water dish. The product, apparently, contains a trademarked ingredient called Protekin which they say safely balances the oral microbiome killing bad bacteria – the source of most gum issues – even below the gum line.
Honestly, I didn’t try either water additive teeth cleaning option, primarily because I’m concerned about products animals ingest, and because I’ve got two cats with severe food allergies and don’t want to rock the boat with their systems. In our house, you can never be sure who’s drinking from which water source.
4. Using Dog Dental Wipes
Product: earthbath tooth & gum wipes
If all the brushing is too much for you, maybe just a wipe good? I’m not sure if earthbath tooth & gum wipes are as effective on tartar as an old fashion scrubbing, but they are easier to use. The company claims the wipes are effective against tartar, plague, and bacterial build up.
Pull one out of the dispensing package, wrap it around your finger, then wipe your dog’s teeth. Again, you must put your hand in his mouth, but you can feel what you are touching.
I’ve been a fan of this company – earthbath – for a while and have previously reviewed its dog tushy wipes here. After that incident, I’ve taken wipes in the car on all trips.
5. Offering Dog Dental Chews
Products: Greenies, The Missing Link, and Frontline Oral Defense
Finally, there’s the easy dental chews. So many products on the market claim to work as dental chews for dogs (we’ve reviewed a few here), and it’s likely better than nothing. However, I can imagine that regularly cleaning or scrubbing the dog’s teeth and gums is the best tartar prevention – just like people.
However, we gave three popular dog dental chew brands a try:
- Greenies Dental Treats
- Frontline Oral Defence
- The Missing Link Smart Mouth Dental Chews.
All are different shapes and textures, designed for longer chewing than the average treat therefore rubbing along the teeth and gums longer. But a chew is only as good as the chewer’s desire to chomp it. What did my dog Victoria think?
My dog is a chewer and given the option of all three, she chose The Missing Link Smart Mouth. Maybe it was the long shape. Maybe it was the smell that day. But that’s the chew she went for – like many dogs, she often leaves them and comes back to them, which she does often her Greenie.
I’m Sherri Telenko, a professional writer for 30 years and travel writer for the last 20. I’m a member of TMAC (Travel Media Association of Canada) and Dog Writers Association of America. I’ve lived with cats, dogs, horses and guinea pigs all my life, and I travel almost weekly with my canine companion, Victoria.
Do you clean your dog’s teeth? Let us know any advice you have in the comments below…
Wow you have to really have a well behaved dog…I sooner put that finger on …