Essential Grooming: Brushing Your Dog's Teeth

Dogs don't get cavities the way humans do, but they do get plaque, tartar, and gingivitis — all of which can cause foul breath and tooth problems. Trips to the doggie dentist can end up being costly, and your dog will have to be put under anesthesia, because no dog ever "opens wide" for any dentist or vet.

Brushing your dog's teeth is important, but how often you do it depends on your dog and your motivation factor. Poor doggie dental care, however, can lead to dental infections that can travel to your pooch's heart, causing major problems and even death. How's that for motivation to brush your dog's teeth?

Train for the cleaning

Working anywhere near your dog's mouth puts you at risk of an occasional frustrated nip or two. Take steps to make brushing your dog's teeth a little less tedious:

  • Brush frequently. Ultimately, you need to brush your dog's teeth every day, but realistically, you're better than most pet owners if you can brush them once or twice a week. Frequent brushing gets your dog used to the brushing routine and to the idea of having her mouth handled by you.
  • Choose the best time. A great time for brushing is right after your dog has exercised and is a little tired. At least, that time's preferable to when she's willing to fight with you over handling her mouth.
  • Train your dog to allow you to touch her mouth.
  • Get her ready to have her teeth brushed by doing the following:

• 1. Flip up her lips.

• 2. Wet the edge of a clean washcloth so you can rub your dog's gums and teeth; hold a corner of the wet portion of the washcloth with your index finger and use a gentle, circular motion.

• 3. Talk to your dog in calm, soothing tones.

• 4. If your dog grows impatient, do Steps 1 through 3 for only a few seconds, and then stop and give her a treat.

• 5. Repeat Steps 1 through 4 again tomorrow, gradually lengthening the amount of time you spend doing them.

Eventually, you'll be able to build up the amount of time your dog allows you to touch her mouth to where you're giving your dog a nice tooth and gum massage without any fuss.

Getting down to brushing

After your dog gets used to getting a gum massage with a wet washcloth, the next step is to get her used to the finger brush and pet toothpaste. You can start brushing your dog's teeth by using a technique similar to the way you use the washcloth in the preceding section.

Follow these steps to properly brush your dog's teeth:

1. Squeeze some doggie toothpaste onto the brush and allow your dog to lick it off.

A finger toothbrush that's made for pets is best. You can use a human toothbrush, but it isn't as good as a finger brush

Don't ever use human toothpaste! Human toothpaste contains fluoride, which in large quantities is poisonous to dogs. Dogs can't rinse and spit, so they pretty much swallow everything you put on their teeth. Doggie toothpaste, on the other hand, is flavored with malt, chicken, or some other yummy flavor that dogs can't resist. It makes the experience a little more enjoyable.

2. Flip up your dog's lips and gently rub the toothbrush and toothpaste against your dog's teeth and gums for a few seconds.

3. Give your dog a treat, even if she allows you to work on her teeth for only a few seconds.

4. Repeat Steps 1 through 3 again tomorrow, gradually lengthening the amount of time spent brushing.

If you gradually increase the amount of time you spend working on this four-step process, you'll eventually build up enough time to give your dog's teeth a thorough brushing.

Some people like to purchase a dental scalar, a device they use to scrape away plaque from their dogs' teeth. Unfortunately, if you're not careful, you can injure your dog's gums, not to mention make one unhappy pooch. That form of teeth-cleaning is better left to your vet, especially when your dog has a lot of tartar and buildup and big teeth!

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