How do I clean my dog's teeth?

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Cleaning your dog's teeth is very important. If you can get your dog to tolerate tooth brushing it will definitely help to keep his mouth healthy.

Don’t wait until signs of dental and gum disease are obvious — and painful! Check your dog’s mouth and clean his teeth regularly. Here’s how:

  • Check your dog’s mouth by holding the lower jaw with one hand and lifting up the lower and upper lips with the other. Look along the gums and teeth on both sides.
  • Open the mouth and inspect as much as you can of the inside of the mouth and tongue.

Top tip: If you press the tip of a finger against the gum, it should go momentarily pale, and then return to normal colour within one or two seconds of releasing the pressure. Dry or tacky feeling gums may be an indication of dehydration.

Checking your dog's gums

SHOULD BE: Moist. Salmon pink in colour.

SHOULD NOT BE:

  • Inflamed and sore-looking.
  • Have ulcers.
  • Be bleeding.
  • Have slow capillary refill time.
  • Be pale, red, blue, or yellow tinged.

If the gums are pigmented, check the membranes of the eyes instead.

Checking your dog's lips

SHOULD BE: Clean and supple.

SHOULD NOT BE:

  • Cracked or crusty.
  • Cut.
  • Smelly.
  • Inflamed or have any discharge.

Breeds with slack lower lips have a tendency to drool, but any more than usual may be a sign of fear, stress, and conditions such as dental pain or a foreign object stuck in the mouth.

Did you know? Dogs use their lips, tongue, and teeth in the same way as we would our hands, to explore and find out more about new objects.

Not sure? If something isn’t quite right — even if you can’t quite put your finger on what is wrong — consult your vet. It’s always better to err on the side of caution.

Checking your dog's tongue

SHOULD BE: Pink in colour.

  • Moist.
  • No obvious injuries, ulcerations, or lumps,

SHOULD NOT BE: Discoloured areas not due to natural pigmentation.

IMPORTANT: Panting is one of the main ways dogs lose heat, but if excessive or when at rest, it can indicate pain or stress, as well as being a symptom of disorders such as heatstroke or heart failure.

Did you know? The tongue is controlled by eight pairs of muscles and kept moist by multiple salivary glands. As well as responding to taste, it helps guide food into the mouth, assists with chewing and swallowing, is used to groom and clean parts of the body, to explore objects, and curls backwards to act as a ladle when drinking.

The tongue plays an important role in temperature control. The blood vessels dilate, causing the tongue to swell and extend. Air passing over the tongue and the evaporation of saliva cools the blood.

Your dog's breath may smell doggy, but shouldn't be offensive.

Checking your dog's teeth

SHOULD BE: Clean.

SHOULD NOT BE:

  • Discoloured.
  • Hard yellowish to brown-coloured deposits.
  • Difficulty eating; reluctance to eat hard foods, chewing on one side, food dropping out of the mouth.
  • Loose or broken teeth.
  • Loss of appetite. Pawing at the mouth.

Fascinating facts about dog teeth

Most adult dogs have 42 teeth, which have different functions:

  • 12 incisors, used for nibbling.
  • 4 canines, used for grabbing and puncturing.
  • 16 premolars, used for tearing and shearing.
  • 10 molars, used for crushing and chewing.

Why do puppies chew?

Chewing helps relieve puppy teething discomfort and aids in shedding milk teeth.

  • Causes the release of calming ‘feel good’ chemicals called endorphins, making it a pleasurable activity for dogs of all ages.
  • Can be a coping mechanism for bored, lonely, anxious, or frustrated dogs.
  • Helps keep teeth clean by physically scraping plaque off, while the saliva produced has a rinsing action. Always supervise any chewing activities.

Dental and gum disease in dogs

Dental and gum disease are common health issues, affecting four out of every five dogs over the age of three years. Plaque build-up is one of the main problems; forming a film on the teeth, it provides an ideal environment in which bacteria can flourish, leading to infection and inflammation. This can give bacteria easy access to the bloodstream so infection can spread.

  • Reduce plaque formation by brushing daily, using a doggy toothbrush, finger brush, or microfibre fingerstall.
  • Specially formulated tasty-flavoured canine toothpastes and gels can make it a more enjoyable procedure for your pet, and some also have antibacterial and enzymatic properties.
  • Never use human toothpaste as some of the ingredients may be toxic to dogs.
  • If you’re unable to brush your dog’s teeth, or there are areas you can’t reach, some preparations can be introduced directly into the mouth from an applicator. Alternatively, products are available that can be added to food or water to help reduce bacteria and plaque.