Are dogs’ mouths really cleaner than humans? We would like to think so, but it isn’t always a realistic expectation, especially if we don’t brush our dogs’ teeth on a regular basis.
I’ll be the first one to admit that brushing my dogs’ teeth was never part of my daily routine. I had a toothbrush and some dog friendly toothpaste, but they collected dust in my cupboard until I remembered to brush them every few months. Now that my dog is older and the risks of going under anesthesia for professional dentals have increased, I have made it more of a priority. Learning the importance of regular canine dental care has helped me hold myself accountable.
Dental care in dogs affects quality of life, behavior, mood, and lifespan. Dental disease begins with plaque, which is filled with nasty bacteria and forms on teeth surfaces in as little as two hours. Next, the gums become inflamed and swollen, causing bad breath and pain. In some cases the gums can begin to bleed or teeth can fall out. If left untreated for too long at this stage, damage to gums, teeth, and bone can be irreversible. The more bacteria that gather in the mouth, the more that enter the body and the bloodstream each time a dog swallows. Small dogs are even susceptible to jaw fractures. Dogs’ mouths are more alkaline than humans, causing more plaque formation.
The good news is that dental disease is preventable. Ideally, dogs’ teeth should be brushed twice a day. Of course, any brushing is better than no brushing. Not all dogs love getting their teeth brushed, making the earlier the better for familiarizing them with hands around and inside their mouths. You can start by touching your dogs’ muzzle lightly for a second, then rewarding them with a treat or pets. If they continue to get more comfortable, start lifting the flaps of the mouth and eventually touching the teeth themselves. Be sure to consult a professional if you are worried about your dog or your safety. Every dog is different for handling.
There are other helpful ways to maintain a healthy mouth in addition to regular brushing. High quality dog food can help scrape plaque off the teeth. There are also a variety of bones and treats with additives to prevent the hardening of plaque. Though prices can add up, vets offer oral exams and cleaning. Some pet health insurances may cover these dentals. If they can’t be done on a regular basis, occasional checkups still help promote dental and overall health.
No one is perfect, and any level of dental care is a step up from nothing. Work your way up to a schedule that fits your life and your dog. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, and dental bones can be purchased online or in pet supply stores. Try making it fun, such as rewarding with a special toy or treat only used for “dental time”. Healthy teeth go a long way, and regular upkeep is the best preventative care.