According to the old wives’ tale, your dog’s mouth is cleaner than your own—and we all know dogs have zero fear when it comes to eating anything (and everything!) they can get their jaws on. But before you go sharin’ licks of your last-of-summer ice cream cone with your furry friend, think about the last time you brushed your dog’s teeth. Last week? Last year? Never? Good dog dental health habits lead to not only sparkly teeth and minty-fresh breath, but most importantly, a life free of gum disease. The good news is it’s not too late to clean up those chompers if you’ve fallen a bit behind, and we’ve got a handy how-to to make it easy for the both of you. Read up!
How to brush your dog’s teeth
Step 1: Select the right toothbrush
The first step to pearly whites is finding the perfect canine toothbrush. Dog toothbrushes are similar to human toothbrushes, but are smaller and have much softer bristles. Another option? A finger toothbrush, which fits over your finger and makes cleaning those hard-to-reach areas all the easier. If you’re in a bind, a clean scrap of gauze or a washcloth will do the trick, too.
Step 2: Find a dog-friendly toothpaste
Never use human toothpaste for your dog. Most contain fluoride, which is extremely toxic—and sometimes fatal—to dogs. Swing by your local pet store or hop online to find a pet-friendly toothpaste (in fun flavors such as poultry and beef), or take the old fashioned route and whip up a paste of 1 tablespoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon water.
Step 3: Get brushin’ with the following technique
Just like we were all taught at a young age, the best approach to tooth brushing is working in small circular motions, moving from the back of the mouth to the front and lifting the lips where necessary. The outside surface of the tooth sees the most plaque and tarter buildup and is therefore the most important area to tackle, but if your dog allows it, try to clean the inside surface of the tooth, too. If your dog is new to teeth cleaning and isn’t real keen on sitting still for the process, don’t stress; simply give him a little TLC, offer a treat, and try again the next day. Practice makes perfect, and before you know it, he’ll be wagging his tail for a taste of beef toothpaste. Ideally you’ll brush your dog’s teeth every day, but aim for at least two to three times a week.
Pro tip: Most dogs will tolerate but aren’t 100 percent comfortable with humans putting their fingers in their mouths, let alone a foreign bristly object loaded with toothpaste. To warm ‘em up to the idea, try dipping your finger in peanut butter before lifting his lips and massaging his teeth and gums, then ease him into licking or smelling canine toothpaste.
General dental health tips and tricks
Chill out: The less energy your pup has, the less he’ll fight you. Try brushing his teeth when he’s worn out from play time as opposed to wanting play time—he’ll be less likely to mistake the toothbrush for a toy, and too tuckered out to put up a fight.
Give a dog a bone: There are tons of chew toys on the market that are designed to strengthen teeth and gums and fight off plaque and tarter. It’s not a substitute for teeth brushing, but it helps!
Crunchy kibble: It’s not fool-proof, but crunchy kibble will help keep build-up away. But the most effective way to keep your dog’s teeth happy and healthy is brushing.
Warning signs: If your dog has worse-than-normal breath, excessive drooling, swollen or bleeding gums, loose or missing teeth, or tumors and cysts, it’s definitely time to pay a visit to the vet. Oral disease can lead to life-threatening issues, so get your furry friend checked out ASAP and practice good dog dental health habits.
Top photo via Flickr/Karen