Ask Doctor Dog: Should You Brush Your Dog’s Teeth?
Most of us are already in the habit of brushing our teeth regularly, but our dog's teeth? Who does that? Does anyone? And, if not, should we be?
Doctor Dog is putting her dog dentist hat on to answer one reader's pressing canine cavity question. Because, yes, your dog absolutely can get cavities.
You can ask Doctor Dog any questions whenever you want. Then, look for her responses in the Dear Doctor Dog advice column on Always Pets.
The Question: Do People Actually Brush Their Dog's Teeth?
Dear Doctor Dog,
I have a 4-year-old Bichon Frise/miniature poodle mix named Sophie. At her annual vet visit, our vet recommended that we have her teeth cleaned. He said she's already showing early signs of gum disease and will likely need to have extractions down the line if we don't get a handle on it now. I was shocked. I had a golden retriever who lived until 15, and he only needed his teeth cleaned once. It never occurred to me that dental care was necessary for dogs.
My question is, did I just luck out with my last dog? Was I supposed to be brushing my dog's teeth this entire time, and I just missed the memo? If that's the case, how do I get my dog used to getting her teeth brushed? TIA!
–Laurie LeBlanc from Burnham, Illinois
Doctor Dog's Answer: Most People Don't, but They Absolutely Should
Don't beat yourself up because most people don't realize that dogs need their teeth brushed just like humans do. About two-thirds of dogs over the age of three have periodontal disease. That means the tissues around their teeth are inflamed or infected. Left unchecked, periodontal disease can lead to pain, difficulty chewing, tooth loss or even life-threatening abscesses.
As for why your golden had healthy teeth while your Bichpoo has breath that could burn your eyebrows off, that comes down to a combination of habits and genes. I'm a golden retriever myself, but I have the same number of teeth as a tiny Chihuahua or Yorkie. Since the teeth of small dogs fit tightly together, food and bacteria are harder to rinse away just from drinking water.
Many small dogs don't share my obsession with sticks, either. I love chewing a good stick or chew toy, and the friction serves as a natural toothbrush. Another factor in how often your dog needs dental care is its diet. Kibble helps scrape plaque off teeth when they chew, while wet food doesn't.
The bad news first: No matter what breed of dog you have, brushing their teeth is not emphasized nearly as much as it should be. Dogs really should have their teeth brushed twice daily, and three times a week is the bare minimum. It's also easiest to start when they're a puppy.
Now for the good news: It's never too late to start, and most dogs start to enjoy getting their teeth brushed with a little practice. Pick up a toothbrush and pet-friendly toothpaste for less than $10, or try a finger toothbrush if that seems easier. Brush very gently to make sure you don't poke their sensitive gums with the end of the toothbrush. Whatever you do, don't use human toothpaste or baking soda in place of pet toothpaste. Both of these can upset Sophie's stomach if she swallows them, especially if they contain xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.
Getting your dog's teeth professionally cleaned every six to 12 months is still important, but daily brushing can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease in between visits. Just pick up Sophie some tasty toothpaste, and her breath will smell bacon-fresh in no time.
Hope that helped!
– Doctor Dog
How to Brush Your Dog's Teeth Like a Pro
Not sure where to start? Watch the video below for a simple tutorial on brushing your dog's teeth by Dr. Jerry Klein, the chief veterinary officer of the American Kennel Club.
Have a Question for Doctor Dog?
Leave any questions for me, and look for my responses in my Dear Doctor Dog advice column on Always Pets. Have questions about cats, bunnies, hamsters or any other critters? Shoot! I may be a dog myself, but I'm here to help all your animal companions, whether they have four legs or fins.
Important reminder: Doctor Dog is happy to provide general pet care guidance, but she cannot provide formal medical recommendations or diagnoses for your pet. Your pet's veterinarian should always be your primary resource for serious questions regarding your pet's health.