Oral disease affects over 80% of dogs by the time they’re three years old, which means a dog dental care program should be a top priority in your regular grooming and health care routine. As with people, gum disease in your dog is painful and can lead to tooth loss as well as kidney, liver, and heart disease. Cleaning your dog’s teeth frequently and watching for signs of dental problems are simple steps you can take to keep your dog healthy.

Check teeth regularly

In addition to a veterinarian’s regular dental exams, you should check your dog’s mouth every few weeks for signs of gum disease. Carefully use your thumb to slide the side of his mouth up over his teeth. (If you’re having trouble, put a little beef bouillon on your thumb to entice your dog to open up.) Indicators to look for include:

  • extremely bad breath
  • yellow tartar buildup along the gum line
  • red, swollen, or bleeding gums
  • pain when you touch the gums or mouth

If you notice any of these, take your dog to the vet for advice and treatment.

For puppies that are three to five months old, you’ll need to check for their adult teeth to come in properly. Sometimes an adult tooth won’t be able to push a baby tooth out of the way, which can lead to improper tooth alignment and abnormal development of the jaw bone. If your puppy stops eating, paws at his mouth, or you notice anything out of the ordinary during your tooth exam, see your veterinarian.

Dog teeth cleaning

You can clean your dog’s teeth by feeding him special foods designed for dental health and brushing his teeth every few days. Foods and products that have been shown to reduce tartar and plaque buildup in pets will carry the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval. You can visit their website for a list of approved dog dental care products.

Brushing a dog’s teeth is fairly simple. As with most dog grooming routines, introduce tooth brushing in stages with short, upbeat sessions.

Stage 1: Brush with your finger

Prepare some beef bouillon and let it cool. Get comfortable with your dog either in your lap or sitting next to you. (It’s best not to use a training command such as “stay” to introduce brushing as there’s a risk your dog could create a negative association with it and stop responding.) Dip your index finger in the beef bouillon. Then gently rub your finger over your dog’s teeth and gums.

Stage 2: Brush with a finger wrapped in gauze

Once your dog is content with stage one, wrap your finger with surgical gauze or a dental cleaning pad. Then gently scrub the teeth in a circular motion.

Stage 3: Brush with a dog toothbrush and toothpaste

You can pickup a toothbrush and paste designed for cleaning dog teeth from a pet supply store or your veterinarian. Never use toothpaste designed for people. It can upset your dog’s stomach and there’s no way to properly rinse when you’re done brushing. Brush the teeth and gums in a soft, circular motion as you did with the gauze.

Adding a little dog dental care to the grooming schedule can keep your dog’s teeth clean, his breath fresh, and his heart healthy.