Do I Need To Brush My Dog’s Teeth?

Dogs get plaque and tartar just like we do. Here's how brushing your dog's teeth can improve his or her health and lifespan!

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Hi, I’m Dr. B, practicing functional dentist for 35 years. I graduated from the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, CA in 1987 and am a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), Academy of General Dentistry (Chicago, IL), American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH), and Dental Board of California. I'm on a mission to empower people everywhere with the same evidence-based, easy-to-understand dental health advice that my patients get. Learn more about Dr. B

My dog is 8 months old and his teeth get brushed once a day. But do I need to worry about flossing and brushing twice a day to keep his teeth clean? He eats dry dog food every day.

A: A lot of people think, how could I possibly remove that brown calculus from my dogs teeth with just a soft bristled toothbrush? Well, you can’t. But the point is that you need to remove the plaque on your dogs teeth before it calcifies and turns into that hard brown deposit.

It’s not good for your dog to be put under frequently for just a tooth cleaning (not to mention expensive). This is something you can prevent yourself with just a toothbrush.

Did you know that dogs are the animal model for gum disease in humans? Yep, poor dogs in research studies are getting lasers pointed at their gums, implants placed into their jawbones, gum surgery, and their teeth brushed and then studied; truly man’s best friend in another way most did not know existed.

Dogs, like humans, have a predilection to gum disease. The things that cause gum disease in humans are pretty much identical in dogs. They get plaque buildup and tartar deposits, then bleeding gums, just like we do.

Dogs’ teeth have a variety of functions: fangs are for holding live prey and puncturing, incisors for nibbling and grooming, premolars for tearing, and molars for crushing bone. Okay, so this isn’t exactly what we use our teeth for, but they are teeth and they need to be brushed.

Just as in humans, if the soft plaque has a chance to harden, it will turn into a difficult to remove tartar or calculus that will require your dog to be put to sleep just for a teeth cleaning. Build-up of the calculus leads to serious gum disease and will shorten the life of your dog.

I recommend an electric toothbrush (like an Oral-B Braun) for your dog. Get the meatiest tasting toothpaste you can find and condition your dog to the electric toothbrush. It will be more effective and take less time than a manual toothbrush.

As for floss, dogs don’t need floss between the teeth for cavity prevention, they need it for removing plaque underneath the gum. Of course this will be easier to accomplish if you start when the dog is a puppy, but it’s not impossible to teach an old dog new tricks (hint hint, it’s the pork chop flavored toothpaste).

And yes, dry dog food is better for your dogs teeth. My dog Ollie gets dry buffalo kibble with no wheat or flour. Canned dog food is bad for your dog’s teeth.

Everything you have read on this site, or learned from your hygienist/dentist, applies to your dog. And if you can floss your dogs teeth, I’ll arrange to have Jane Goodall drop by and pin the award on you herself.

One last point I’d like to add. The pet owner that sits down daily and brushes his or her dogs teeth really gets it. They get that the connection between oral health and over all health is vital to a quality life. Most of my patients with dogs have impeccable oral hygiene themeselves, and are leading healthy lives as a result of it. I’d venture to say, then, that here’s yet another reason, because dogs suffer from gum disease just as we do, that the dog is truly man’s and woman’s best friend.

So to sum things up…

Brush your dog’s teeth daily with an electric toothbrush.

If that’s unreasonable with your schedule, or your dog won’t tolerate it, make sure your dog is at least getting professional teeth cleanings at the vet.

Use toothpaste for dogs from the veterinarian without fluoride.

Replace the head every three months.

Floss and tongue scrape if you can.

No refined carbs, wheat products, or sweet treats or human junk food.
Dry dog kibble only!

Sanitize your dog’s toothbrush as you would your own
And don’t confuse your dog’s toothbrush with your own (I’m worried about your dog)!

Mark Burhenne DDS

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