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Reviewed and updated for accuracy on November 8, 2019 by Dr. Monica Tarantino, DVM

Infection, disease and other oral problems are far too common in canines. More than 85% of dogs over the age of 3 have dental problems that require professional treatment, according to the Animal Medical Center of New York.

Your dog’s oral health is more important than you think. Studies in dogs have shown that periodontal disease is associated with microscopic changes in the heart, liver and kidneys, according to the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC).

By making pet dental care a regular part of your routine, you can improve your dog’s teeth, help them enjoy a healthier life and minimize the need for costly dental treatments at the veterinarian’s office.

You should talk with your veterinarian about the best ways to create a dental care program for your dog. Here are some tips to get you on the path to improving your dog’s oral health.

4 Dog Dental Care Methods to Add to Your Routine

There are a variety of ways you can help your dog have heathier teeth and gums. Here are five of the best ways to help promote good dental health in your pup.

Regular Brushing

Though you and your pet may not enjoy it, brushing on a daily basis is the most beneficial thing you can do to improve your dog’s teeth, says Dr. Daniel T. Carmichael, a board-certified veterinary dentist at the Veterinary Medical Center of Long Island.

“Research shows once-a-day tooth brushing is very effective in controlling the buildup of plaque and tartar, which causes gum disease,” Dr. Carmichael says. “Every-other-day tooth brushing is not as effective but somewhat effective. Brushing teeth once or twice a week isn’t going to do anything.”

Take the time to train your dog to accept tooth brushing.

“If you can train a Poodle to jump through a circus hoop, you can train them to tolerate tooth brushing,” says Dr. Carmichael, who recommends starting when your dog is a puppy.

“Get them used to just having the lip flicked up, looking at the teeth and touching the teeth,” he says. “Do it with love and praise. Just brush the outside of the teeth.”

The act of brushing alone is beneficial, and you can brush with just water, Dr. Carmichael says.

However, if you do decide to use toothpaste as well, remember that dogs CANNOT use human toothpaste. Dogs need special dog-safe toothpaste because the fluoride in human toothpaste is toxic to dogs.

Tooth-Friendly Treats

Treats that are designed to fight plaque and tartar can also help improve your best friend’s teeth.

Make sure you offer your pet the right size product, and watch how your dog reacts after you give her the treat, the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) advises.

Dental treats work best when dogs spend at least a couple of minutes chewing them, the VOHC says. If your dog wolfs down the chew, it won’t be effective and should not be used.

You can talk to your veterinarian to find the best fit for your pup, but the VOHC has a list of approved dental products for dogs that you can reference.

Products that earn the VOHC's seal of approval have demonstrated that they meet their standards for efficacy in reducing tartar and/or plaque through testing; however, they won’t “treat” a rotten tooth. Only anesthetized dental cleanings and treatment at your veterinary office can do this.

Dental treats should not be used in place of brushing or regular cleanings but instead can help contribute to your pet’s dental health.   

Food for Dental Health

You may want to try a dental diet consisting of a dry food that’s clinically proven to reduce plaque, stain and tartar buildup. Brands like Hill’s Prescription Diet, Hill’s Science Diet, Royal Canin and Purina ProPlan Veterinary diets all have dog foods specifically formulated to promote dental health. 

You can feed these diets exclusively or give them as a treat or portion of your pet’s regular daily diet. Your veterinarian will need to prescribe most of these diets, and they will determine how it should be fed.

The crunchy prescription diet kibbles work by providing more “mechanical abrasion” to the surface of the teeth, Dr. Carmichael says. “That’s been shown to significantly improve oral health compared to a standard dry food diet.”

Lastly, think twice before you feed your dog exclusively wet food, since it promotes more accumulation of plaque than conventional dry food, Dr. Carmichael says.

Regular Dental Checkups

Like humans, dogs need regular checkups to keep their teeth and gums clean and healthy. Your veterinarian should examine your dog’s teeth periodically.

Dogs with hard buildup on their teeth should have a cleaning done at the veterinarian’s office.  Brushing your pet’s teeth is used as a ‘preventative’ measure for dental disease, not a treatment of dental disease, which needs anesthetized dental cleanings.

A comprehensive examination and cleaning require the use of a power tool for scaling teeth and instruments for cleaning the area under the gum line. And that requires anesthesia, the AVDC notes.

While some veterinarians offer anesthesia-free cleaning, the American Veterinary Dental College does not endorse the practice.

Dental checkups are not just for handling dental disease. “A dental screening is a good time to screen for oral cancer,” Dr. Carmichael says. “I treat oral cancer almost on a daily basis. The best way to have successful outcomes is to catch these things early.”

By: Lynne Miller

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