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Tips From the Vet: How to Keep Your Dog's Teeth Healthy and Clean

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM

Preventive Pet Dental Care
A mouthful of shiny white teeth looks good on a dog of any age and any breed. Up to a year old, most dogs have naturally lovely smiles. After that, a combination of genetics and preventive care—which begins with choosing the right dental supplies—plays a part in keeping those pearly whites as healthy as possible. 


Look for a dental gel and/or toothpaste flavor your dog likes. My dogs come down firmly on the peanut, bacon, tuna, and poultry side. Actually, any meat flavor will do! Above all, avoid human dental products. It might be tempting to try whitening strips or the latest “does everything but clean the house” version of human toothpaste, but hold strong. Many human products are not safe for dogs because they’re designed to be spit out. You’re probably not going to convince your dog to rinse and spit!
Once you’ve found a flavor that your dog happily licks out of the tube, begin getting him used to having his teeth brushed. Put a dab of toothpaste on a gauze square, pet toothbrush, or finger brush. Don’t open your pup’s mouth wide; instead, slip the pad or brush up under the lip very casually. Brush the teeth on one side of the mouth once or twice and then stop. After two or three days of that, brush the teeth on both sides of the mouth. Don’t be concerned about not getting to the inside of your dog’s teeth. The action of the tongue tends to keep the insides fairly clean. 
I don’t push brushing on puppies because they may have sore gums from teething. Let your puppy enjoy licking some flavored toothpaste or gel, but skip the actual brushing until he’s six to eight months of age, when the adult teeth should definitely be in place. 
If your dog likes the toothpaste or gel flavor that you are using and you are gentle and calm in your approach, he’ll quickly come to like having his teeth brushed. My Belgian Tervuren, Babe, likes it so much that she reminds me each morning to brush all of my dogs’ teeth! Generally, brushing two to three times a week is fine, but more frequently won’t hurt—Babe insists on her tooth brushing daily. As part of our morning routine, I brush my teeth and then the dogs, led by Babe, line up for their tooth brushing.


If your dog resists toothbrushes, you may have better luck with dental wipes. You can also try gel on a finger brush and just wipe—don’t try to brush. 


Like brushing and wiping, dental sprays and foams help to prevent and loosen plaque and tartar. These items are best used on dogs who have not had good preventive care and who have already built up some plaque and tartar. Gently wipe your dog’s teeth with damp gauze periodically to remove any loosened material if you use a spray or foam product. 


There are also products you can add to your dog’s food or water. Measure additives carefully, and if you have more than one dog, regulate how much each one gets. A shared food or water bowl can be tricky. Pay attention in case your dog notices the added ingredient and holds back on his drinking. 


Dental chews are a great way to prevent plaque and tartar from forming on your dog’s teeth. Look for actual “dental” chews—not just regular chews. Your dog can enjoy some regular chew items too, but dental chews provide extra help to keep his smile bright and white. 
Some edible chews, like Nutri Dent® edible dental chews, are designed for your dog to chew, eat, and enjoy while the chew’s cleaning properties work on the plaque and tartar on his teeth. Dental chews toys are meant to massage the gums and work on plaque and tartar, but they are not to be eaten and swallowed. If your dog is watching his weight as one of his resolutions for 2016, you may want to consider the non-edible versions. 
Always check if a given chew item is considered to be edible or not. Supervise your dog so that he doesn’t chew off and swallow large pieces of non-edible chews or toys.



Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your dog will build up plaque and tartar. Just as some people are prone more plaque and tartar buildup, so are some dogs—and those can be dogs of any size, breed, or mix. For these canine companions, it is best to have a full dental cleaning done by your veterinarian and then follow up with a regular care program. 

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