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Does my dog need a dentist?

Attempting to brush a dog’s teeth can be a challenging and frustrating experience; many dogs will resist having their teeth scrubbed. So, should we brush our dogs’ teeth? “The short answer is only the ones you want to save!” says Dr. Daniel T. Carmichael, vet and veterinary dentist. “But a more complete answer is [that] periodontal disease is the most common disease in dogs, affecting 85% over the age of three.” The best treatment is to prevent the bacterial plaque from accumulating on your dog’s teeth, and the best way of doing this is by brushing teeth - daily.

How to brush your dog’s teeth

A special brush isn’t required; use a soft-bristled toothbrush. A breed like a Greyhound might need a brush with a longer handle, whereas a dog like a Jack Russell Terrier might benefit from a child’s brush. You don’t need toothpaste, either. “The brush will do 95% of the work,” Carmichael says. “Most of the toothpaste is nothing more than flavouring.”

Ideally, start brushing your dog’s teeth daily from when they’re a puppy or young dog. “Get them used to the process. As you’re petting them, lift up their lips and look at their teeth,” says Dr. Carmichael, adding that it helps to go slowly and take breaks. Once the outside surfaces of the teeth are exposed, brush them in circular motions. If you’ve adopted an older dog, they may have pre-existing dental issues, sensitivity, or be uncomfortable with a brush in their mouth. In that case, go to your vet for an oral exam and potentially a professional dental treatment; it’s a comprehensive treatment and is often conducted under general anaesthetic. 

Professional dental cleanings

The average treatment would involve examining and cleaning all 42 teeth, a periodontal probe to identify disease areas, lesions, tumours, or broken teeth, and a complete set of x-rays. The vet will extract any severely diseased teeth. Most dogs can get away with one professional dental treatment a year, but if you have a small dog they may require more frequent trips to the vet dentist as they tend to suffer more dental problems compared to larger breeds. 

 

Your dog’s breath should smell the way it does after a professional cleaning all the time. “Bad breath is not normal in a dog,” says Dr. Carmichael. “If you notice your dog’s breath is getting worse and it’s not from something they ate, it’s dental disease.”

Avoid products that injure dog teeth

Preventing dental damage in the first place is perhaps more important. “I am up to tens of thousands of lost teeth now on account of nylon bones and deer antlers - I can go to a shop and purchase those in the dental care aisle!” says Dr. Carmichael. Avoid animal hooves as chews and real bones. He recommends sticking with tough rubber toys like the ones from Kong. Be cautious with tennis balls too. The sand or grit they pick up can wear teeth down. “[Playing] fetch on a Sunday is fine but I don’t recommend it as a pacifier,” says Dr. Carmichael.

Do your best to brush your dog’s teeth daily; once you get in the habit, it’ll keep them in good dental hygiene and health.

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Written by:
Marisa Meltzer
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