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Does My Dog Need Her Teeth Brushed Every Day?

Author:

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.

If your small dog has good dentition, brushing can be minimal.

If your small dog has good dentition, brushing can be minimal.

Which Dog Breeds Need Their Teeth Brushed Every Day?

If your dog has a large mouth and his teeth are spaced far apart (like those of Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Pit Bulls, and other breeds with healthy and normal mouths), if he keeps his mouth closed except when panting, and if his teeth are “scissor” type and come together neatly in the front, you do not need to worry much about dental disease and can probably get by with giving your dog plenty of things to chew on.

What do I mean by "plenty"? Your dog has to chew enough. This should primarily be raw bones. To keep my dogs' teeth clean, I also allow them to chew on coconut husks, wood, rubber, and many other objects. (Do not feed your dog bones that have been sawed and cooked like steak bones, pork chop bones, or rib bones. They can cause blockages, and besides that, are not much good for cleaning the teeth.) The CET chews are helpful, as are plain rawhide strips, rope toys, and many of the other chewing toys sold by pet shops.

Chewing is good.

If your dog has a short upper or lower jaw and his teeth do not come together (like Pugs, Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, Boxers, and other brachycephalic breeds), he breathes through an open mouth, or he has normal jaws but they are tiny and the teeth are too close together (like the Maltese, Yorkie, Miniature Pinscher, and some other small breeds) daily brushing is vital to prevent tartar buildup, gingivitis, and the eventual development of periodontal disease.

Chewing raw bones will help clean the teeth, but it is not enough for all dogs.

Chewing raw bones will help clean the teeth, but it is not enough for all dogs.

But What About MY Puppy?

Some people argue "his teeth are going to fall out anyway". Do not think that way.

If you start out with a puppy and teach your little guy that daily brushing is normal it will not be a problem for you to complete this task each day. The biggest headache in my experience is when owners ignore the problem until the dog is several years old and early periodontal disease is diagnosed during a visit to the vet. The dog needs a professional cleaning to start but after that requires daily brushing. This proves difficult when the dog is not used to the owner sticking fingers or other foreign objects into the mouth.

Older dogs have a difficult time accepting this procedure. Yes, puppy teeth will fall out. No, it does not matter.

Start when your dog is still a puppy.

This is what your dogs mouth will look like if you do not brush the teeth.

This is what your dogs mouth will look like if you do not brush the teeth.

How to Brush Your Dog's Teeth

If you have never brushed your older dog's teeth before, take her in for an exam. Your dog's teeth cannot be cleaned at home. She might need a good scaling, ultrasonic scraping, and polishing. If there are already pockets of infection, your vet might recommend she be put on antibiotics and have her toys taken away until things clear up.

As soon as the teeth are clean, it is up to you to keep them that way. To brush your dog's teeth every day:

  1. If she is small, put her up on a table because dogs feel overwhelmed when you are leaning over them.
  2. The first day, just put your finger under the lips and give her a lot of praise. You can let her lick a little toothpaste off of the tip of your finger just to get used to the taste. (I use this chicken flavored product for my small dog's teeth. Never use human toothpaste as there is no way for her to spit it up and it will upset her stomach.) Don’t stress her out. Let her smell her new toothbrush (I like the finger toothbrush because a lot of dogs seem a lot less threatened by a fingertip in the mouth) and then give her a treat, keeping it a positive experience.
  3. The next day, put her up on the table again and let her smell the toothpaste and the finger brush, give her a small piece of cheese or other tasty treat, and touch her teeth a little more. Do not rush things, even if it seems to be going perfectly. It will take about a week if you go slowly, but at the end of that time your dog should allow you to give her teeth a proper cleaning.

Simple, isn't it? If your dog is adamant about not having her mouth messed with and you cannot handle her, find a behaviorist or trainer that is willing to work with her and teach you what needs to be done; your dog will eventually become amenable and accept your help. Don’t ignore the problem or she will pay for it and will eventually suffer due to your lack of effort.

Your friend deserves your time and effort!

All dogs appreciate chewing but they still need their teeth brushed.

All dogs appreciate chewing but they still need their teeth brushed.

What Happens If I Do Not Have Time to Brush My Dog's Teeth?

Taking in and caring for your dog seems like a lot of work sometimes. You have to feed her, groom her, train her to behave and not to tear up your house, and provide her with plenty of exercise. On top of all of that, you are also expected to brush her teeth every day.

Why not just ignore this chore and enjoy the dog?

If you ignore this problem, there are consequences, and bad breath is only one of them. Your dog's gums will become inflamed, and pockets of pus will develop. She will have loose teeth, a sore mouth, and eventually will have a sore stomach and bowel problems from having to swallow all that pus. When she eats, the bacteria will be released into the bloodstream and it can get lodged on the lining of the heart (endocarditis) and can eventually lead to congestive heart failure. The bacteria are also filtered out by the kidneys and liver, so she might also have problems with those two vital organs.

Avoid those problems. Start brushing your dog's teeth every day.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Comments

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 23, 2012:

Definitely. My Pit is fine without just chewing (she shreds coconut every day, which is kind of like flossing) but smaller breeds definitely need help.

DoItForHer on June 23, 2012:

Cool. Brushing only on the outside is significantly better than not brushing at all. Would that be an appropriate statement?

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 23, 2012:

Most of the plaque and tartar we deal with when cleaning is on the outside so there is not much need to open the mouth. It does make it a lot easier and it definitely needs to be done on the little ones.

DoItForHer on June 23, 2012:

I meant not opening the dog's mouth to get the inside, but just lifting the lip and brushing with the teeth closed.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 23, 2012:

I really do not know how they were basing their estimate. Most of the problems start on the outside of the teeth with plaque leading to tartar leading to gum disease, so brushing would prevent almost everything (there would be a very few with gingivitis secondary t medications, internal diseases, etc).

DoItForHer on June 23, 2012:

I read somewhere that something like 96% of dental problems occur on the outside of dogs' teeth. Do you know if this is true? If so, that would make brushing teeth easier for a lot of owners.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 10, 2012:

Since cats are obligate carnivores the food companies have not been able to sell as much junk as they have for dogs. There are a lot of good cat foods out there so I really can not recommend one over the other.

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on June 10, 2012:

Hi, DrMark--just came back to these comments. I've looked for different foods for my dog but don't know what's best. I have 5 cats and don't know if I can afford the best with them. They do well....I'm going to read your hub on premium foods. Thanks!

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 06, 2012:

Hi Victoria Lynn. There is always a risk, it is based on the examination of his heart, lungs, pre-anesthetic blood work(on an 8 yr old dog it is worthwhile paying the extra 50 bucks for the blood work. I have a 14 yr old Maltese and would never put him under wout bloodwork). But is the risk greater than the periodontal disease, secondary vegetative endocarditis, liver failure, etc? Not usually.

Did you see my hub about premium foods and longevity? I wrote it after reading your hub about frugality. I watched an Iams commercial after that and noticed they are careful to never state anything definite, just that their dog food makes dogs healtheir thus they live longer, neither of which they can prove.

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on June 06, 2012:

DrMark--is there any danger with anesthesia for a dog at 8 years old? He's a shih tzu, pekingnese, terrier mix. You're right about him looking a lot like a Maltese. He weighs about 17 lbs. Thanks!

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 01, 2012:

It would be hard for me to say without probing but just looking at his picture (a Maltese cross?) I would think he would have problems, would definitely be one of the dogs who would suffer from secondary diseases if the teeth are not cared for properly

I had to put my Maltese under anesthesia every year when he was younger!

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on June 01, 2012:

My dog doesn't fight too much when I brush his teeth. I don't do it very often, so I'm bad about that. The vet says he has only slight issues. Do you think him going under for a teeth cleaning is worth it? I worry too much about anesthesia, I guess. I don't know whether or not to start fresh in that way or just brush as well as I can from now on and see how it goes.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 26, 2012:

Thanks Kristen. I want to put a lik in for your page for those not able to do the necessary brushing every day

Kristen Haynie from Scotia, CA on May 26, 2012:

This is great information! Very helpful and informative!

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 18, 2012:

Thanks for the comment Nadene

I have a Pit cross at the moment and she does not need daily toothbrushing because she shreds coconut every time we go for a walk, but my Maltese was like your Pom, a sad case because of his tiny mouth. Anyone willing to get a small dog or a dog with a brachycephalic skull needs to be willing to take extra care of them.

Nadene Seiters from Elverson, PA on May 18, 2012:

Wow! I really liked this article. I have two dogs and they do not have any dental disease because I give them plenty to chew on, plus neither of them are a small breed. I did have a Pomeranian I rescued off the street that had to have over ten teeth pulled in one surgery, it was horrific and expensive. I never got the chance to teach him to have his teeth brushed. He died of a brain tumor. But in the future I would like to get another small dog and this is great advice on how to train them!