Dog Teeth Cleaning: Who Should Do It?

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Caring for your dog’s teeth is critical to his overall health and wellness. Dogs can develop many different dental diseases that are often undiagnosed, painful and can impact your dog’s wellbeing. Dogs commonly hide their dental pain.

It is important to care for your dog’s teeth, just as it is important for you to care for your own teeth. Similar recommendations exist between humans and dogs. Our dentists recommend that for basic care, in addition to flossing, that we brush at least daily and have dental cleanings every 6 months.

Learning to care for your dog’s teeth can help keep your dog comfortable but also help to prevent costly dental cleanings. Below we will give you some great tips on how to clean your dog’s teeth, how to know if you are doing a good job, provide symptoms of dental disease in dogs, and discuss how to get your dog’s teeth cleaned professionally.

How Often Should You Clean Your Dog’s Teeth?

The best recommendation to clean your dog’s teeth is to brush the teeth daily. This is why. Dental plaque builds up on the teeth daily. This occurs on the surface of the tooth and gum line. Dental plaque is a sticky substance that contains bacteria, food particles, and saliva. If the plaque is left untouched, it will mineralize and form into hard tartar, also referred to as calculus, in approximately 48 hours. By brushing daily, you minimize the chance of the plaque mineralizing!

Why is this important? It is critical to remove dental plaque because once the tartar mineralizes; it attracts more plaque, then more tartar. This build-up of tartar can occur both above and below the gum line. Dangerous types of bacteria are attracted to this environment that leads to the destruction of periodontal tissues. This causes disease.

How to Clean Your Dog’s Teeth

It can be pretty easy, especially if you start early. Learn tips on How to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth.
When brushing your dog’s teeth, it is critical to have the right tools. There are many styles of toothbrushes and many different types and flavors of toothpaste. It is also important to pick out the toothbrush and toothpaste combination that will work best for your dog. For example, a finger brush generally works best for large breed dogs such as Labrador retrievers. Some small brushes with a handle may work best for small and miniature breed dogs. You may need to experiment to find out what works best for you and your dog. Learn more about picking the right Dental Products for Dogs.

How to Know You Did A Good Enough Job

You can generally tell if you did a good job brushing your dog’s teeth by looking carefully at your dog’s teeth. It is important to have good lighting and to look at all the teeth. You can use natural light but it may be easier to use a small flashlight to see the teeth in the very back of the mouth. The teeth should look white and have minimal pigmentation or build up of discoloration and tartar (Figure 1).

dog teeth cleaning

Figure 1. Model of a dog’s teeth with severe tartar build up (black arrow).

Places to Get Your Dog’s Teeth Cleaned

In addition to daily brushing, a deeper clean is also recommended periodically. The frequency of a deeper clean will depend on your ability to brush your dog’s teeth and your dog’s individual dental situation which is often a result of genetics.

Some dogs just won’t permit daily brushing. And even with great dental care, every dog can be different. Just as there are people who have beautiful teeth with very little work or dental care, the same is true for dogs. On the opposite side, some dogs have terrible dental disease even with great care. Many of the dental problems are related to the dog’s breed and genetics.

If you notice your dog has bad breath or you notice a build-up of tartar or other signs of dental disease, please see your veterinarian. Most veterinarians routinely perform dental cleanings. If they do not perform dental cleanings or your dog requires advanced dental procedures, they can recommend a veterinarian that does dental cleaning and recommend that you see a veterinary dentist if that is needed. You can contact your local specialty veterinary clinic or local university of veterinary medicine for recommendations.

What’s Involved in Professional Dog Teeth Cleaning

The professional dental cleaning procedure generally consists of sedation followed by an anesthetic. It is important for your dog to be still and comfortable. Your dog will be monitored closely during this procedure. A dental cleaning may consist of the following (and may vary from vet to vet):

  • Basic blood work to confirm good organ function
  • Thorough oral examination of the gums, tongue, and teeth
  • Dental x-rays
  • Manual removal of tartar
  • Extraction of any diseased teeth
  • Ultrasonic cleaning of teeth
  • Polishing
  • Fluoride treatment
  • Documentation of dental care in the medical record

Professional dental cleaning is commonly referred to as a “dental” or “dental prophy.” Learn more here: What is a Dental Cleaning or Prophy in Dogs?

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