Do I Really Need to Brush My Dog’s Teeth?

Q:  Why do I need to brush my dog’s teeth?
  Failure to brush a dog’s teeth daily will result in more frequent need for expensive professional dental cleanings and possibly extractions. A few minutes each night spent on brushing can greatly prolong the time between cleanings. Once or twice a week doesn’t do it-plaque forms in 24 hours. 
Q:  Can’t I give the dog some bones or hard chews instead of brushing his teeth?
  No, sorry. Natural bones, nylon bones, cow hooves, antlers, bully sticks, and ice cubes can cause broken teeth. Non-toxic plastic or rubber chews can satisfy chewing urges, massage gums, and chip away some plaque. But neither hard nor soft chews are substitutes for brushing teeth. (If you buy chews, make sure they are made in the U.S.)
Q:  Can I use impregnated fabric swabs to clean his teeth instead of a brush?
:  Fabric swabs (e.g. Dr. Foster & Smith Dental Clens Pads) and finger brushes do not clean teeth as effectively as a tooth brush. But dogs that resist brushes will often tolerate the pads and finger brushes.
Q:  Do I have to use doggie toothpaste? Why not human toothpaste?
  NEVER use human toothpaste on a dog; it contains chemicals that shouldn’t be swallowed. Dogs like chicken-flavored or mint-flavored doggie paste, but it’s the brushing that does the work, not the paste.
Q  Why do dogs need professional dental cleanings done by a vet?
  Plaque and tartar buildup at and under the gum line enables growth of bacteria under the gums. Most dogs that have bad breath also have gingivitis - swollen and inflamed gums, usually bright red or purple, that bleed easily. Unchecked, these bacterial infections in the gums slowly destroy the ligament and bony structures that support the teeth (periodontitis). Because of the ample blood supply to the gums, infections in the mouth can also poison the dog systemically, potentially causing disease of the heart, kidneys, liver, and even the eyes.
Q:  I hate having my dog put under anesthesia for dental cleanings by my vet. Is this really necessary?
   Dental scaling done without anesthesia is incomplete, inadequate, cosmetic only, and potentially dangerous. The critical area under the dog’s gums is cleaned at the vet’s office with sterile instruments and a fine mist of water, which washes the bacteria out of the dog’s mouth. Ultrasonic tools available to the technician are fast and accurate but wouldn’t be tolerated by a conscious dog. There is tremendous variation in the rate at which different Shelties form plaque and tartar, so some dogs need cleanings much more often than others.
Q:  My groomer offers to use a scaler on my dog’s teeth instead.  Does this work?
  No. While there are many groomers who may be capable of removing some dental calculus from a dog’s teeth, this scaling doesn’t get to the area under the gums that causes more serious problems. Only a veterinarian can recognize, diagnose, and treat conditions like fractured teeth or oral cancer. If periodontal disease is advanced, x-rays will be needed to evaluate the supporting structures of the teeth.
Q:  Are there good dental chews on the market that are safe and effective in reducing plaque?
  Dental treats that have the registered Seal of the
Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) <> are OK. Costco carries VOHC dental bones called “Check Ups.” Give only ½ bone per day.  Virbac C.E.T. petite chews were recommended by a veterinary dental professional for Shelties. However, they are not a substitute for brushing. But they do help.

Q:  How about additives to a dog’s drinking water? Do they work?

  Additives like “Biotene Veterinarian Drinking Water Additve” or “Dog Essential Healthymouth Antiplaque Water Additive” (VOHC seal) may help reduce plaque. These two are considered to be safe but there are other additives on the market that aren’t. Never use one that contains xylitol. Even the best ones aren’t a substitute for brushing or dental cleanings. They may, however, prolong intervals between cleanings when used with brushing.

Written by:   Martha Heisel   Northern Virginia Sheltie Rescue

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