The importance of dental care in dogs

Read time: 7 minutes

My best advice for keeping on top of your dog’s dental health

I often get asked how I keep on top of dental care for all six of my dogs. The problem is, many people think of it as a hassle. However, it really doesn’t have to be as stressful or time consuming as you might think.

Dental care in domesticated pets is often overlooked. Sadly, many owners are unaware that bad dental hygiene can actually cause further health problems. Fortunately, more pet parents are now starting to educate themselves on the issues surrounding pet dental health, just like I did. And this is a great first step!

This blog contains my routines, tips and tricks for taking care of my dog’s dental health. I hope they’re helpful for you and your dog too.

James middleton laughing being licked by his black cocker spaniel

What are the signs of poor dental health?

Recognising the common signs of poor teeth and gums in your dog is so important. It’s also a great first step to developing a healthy dental care routine for them.

Smelly breath

All of us pet parents have had to deal with the dreaded dog breath at some stage in our lives! That smelly, fishy odour that we know all too well is one of the most common signs of poor dental health in dogs. When plaque and tartar builds up, bad bacteria will start to decay the teeth. This decay is known to release a foul smelling odour. So, if you find yourself avoiding your dog’s kisses, now might be the time to take action.

Plaque and tartar

Plaque is the sticky substance that builds up on the enamel of your dog’s teeth, much like it can in humans. It’s caused when saliva, bacteria and food particles combine together in the mouth. If left untreated, it will start to react with mineral deposits in the mouth, resulting in tartar. Plaque and tartar build up can cause pain, discomfort and more severe dental problems, such as loose teeth, if left untreated.

Inflamed gums

Inflamed gums are caused by bacteria from plaque and tartar build up on the teeth. Your dog’s gums might appear red, swollen, or maybe even bleeding. This condition is called gingivitis. It can cause discomfort and can make chewing for your dog painful.

Fussy eating

If your dog shows signs of gingivitis or visible tartar build up, then you might also notice they’re reluctant to eat. This is sometimes an indication that chewing is painful, and it usually calls for a trip to the vet.

However, it’s important to remember that fussiness isn’t always an indication of poor dental health. If your dog’s teeth are healthy, fussy eating is often a learned behaviour. Check out my blog for tips and tricks for fussy dogs.

Chattering teeth

In conjunction with the signs above, chattering teeth can also indicate tooth discomfort caused by plaque and tartar build-up. This can be your dog’s way of easing the pain, so a trip to the vet could be a good idea if you notice frequent chattering.

Image of cocker spaniel showing teeth

Can my dog’s poor dental hygiene cause other health issues?

This is a question I get asked often by dog owners and sadly, the answer is usually yes. Ongoing poor dental hygiene can lead to a plethora of health issues in your dog’s later years.

Gingivitis is considered to be the first warning sign before periodontitis occurs in your dog. Unfortunately, periodontitis, otherwise known as gum disease, isn’t reversible. If it’s severe, research has shown that it can take up to two years or more off your dog’s life expectancy.

Periodontitis can slowly destroy the bone that supports your dog’s teeth, causing loose teeth and potentially a fractured jaw in small dogs. In severe cases, bacteria from tartar build up can reach the gums and access the bloodstream. This can increase the risk of secondary health issues developing such as liver, kidney and heart disease.

The good news is, unlike gum disease, gingivitis is treatable and preventable. So if you start to notice the signs, it might be worth a trip to the vets before it gets any worse.

In order to treat gingivitis, your dog would most likely undergo a full scale and polish at the vets. This procedure removes the plaque and tartar build up, especially under the gum-line where it causes most damage. If good dental care is kept on top of after the scale and polish, sore inflamed gums caused by gingivitis often heal quickly.

James middleton's dogs in a row with raw meaty bone in front of each of them

How can I improve my dog’s dental health?

My main advice? Dental care for dogs isn’t expensive, but neglect is. When it comes to dental health in dogs, prevention is better than cure. That’s why you should take care of your dog’s teeth from a young age. It’s the best way you can prevent the development of related health issues.

Feed a natural diet

You may not be aware that some ingredients commonly used in commercial kibble, can contribute to poor dental health. The main culprits are the high levels of artificial additives and sugars. These highly processed food particles stick to the surface of the teeth, causing plaque build-up.

Feeding a natural, nutritious diet is the best first step you can take to ensure your dog’s dental health remains in tip top condition. Healthy food, such as Ella’s cold-pressed, freeze-dried or Kibble + Raw varieties, contain no artificial additives, fillers or bulking agents. Instead, only the best, human-grade and natural ingredients are used. These ingredients are easily broken down by digestive enzymes in your dog’s saliva. This reduces the risk of plaque build-up, resulting in a happy, healthy mouth!

Daily brushing

Brushing is the gold standard in dental health practices at home. It’s recommended to brush your dog’s teeth daily with dog-friendly antibacterial toothpaste. Practise brushing your dog’s teeth when they’re young; it’s the best way to get them used to it. Adult dogs can also be desensitised to brushing, with some patience and training.

  1. First of all, ensure that you and your dog are in a calm, comfortable environment at home.

  2. Start by putting a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on your finger and let your dog or puppy sniff and taste it. You could also use a finger brush too.

  3. You can then slowly progress to putting the toothpaste on the brush. Rest the brush on your dog’s canine tooth, which is easy to access by lifting the top lip up.

  4. Once they’re comfortable with this, you can then start to brush their teeth in small, gentle circles until any plaque starts to come away.

If your dog really doesn’t like their teeth being brushed, removing plaque can also be achieved by gently using your finger to flick it away. This is a good starting point to get your dog used to the feeling of their teeth being touched.

It shouldn’t be long until you’re able to confidently brush your dog’s teeth. Focus on getting into the nooks and crannies, and don’t forget the back teeth! If daily brushing isn’t possible, try to aim for at least three times per week.

Healthy chews

For some dogs, brushing their teeth can be a stressful experience. If this sounds familiar, it’s important not to force it, for the sake of both you and your dog’s safety. Instead, your dog might prefer a dental chew to help scrape any plaque off their teeth. Luckily, there are plenty of options you could go for!

  • Raw carrots are a great, cost effective chew and most dogs love them! One per day is enough to keep plaque at bay.

  • Another great option that avoids brushing is to purchase a teeth cleaning dog toy. These toys have lots of ridges and soft bristles to help clean the teeth when chewed. Bonus points for applying some dog toothpaste on the bristles of the toy!

  • One of the most natural healthy chews you can offer your dog is a meaty bone. Make sure that bones are raw and never cooked, as cooked bones can splinter when chewed. Also, ensure you reduce your dog’s daily food allowance accordingly, and take bones away after 15 minutes. Meaty bones should be kept in the fridge to avoid spoiling. The occasional raw meaty bone can really help to improve your dog’s dental health.

When offering any type of dental chew, make sure you choose one which is appropriately sized for your dog. For example, a small chew or toy given to a large dog could pose a choking hazard. Also, it may not last long enough to have an impact on cleaning their teeth.

James middleton grinning next to his black cocker spaniel showing teeth

Keep your dog smiling!

I hope this blog has given you a greater understanding of why and how we should take care of our dog’s teeth. It’s important to treat our dog’s dental hygiene the same as we treat our own, in order to prevent related health issues from occurring in the future.

Brushing our dog’s teeth every single day is not always realistic! Giving your dog a carrot one day instead of brushing is absolutely fine. As long as you’re doing everything you can to keep plaque and tartar at bay, you can be confident that your dog’s teeth and gums will be better for it.

James & Ella x


James' Top Tip

Don’t forget that bad breath can sometimes be a sign of another underlying health condition, such as kidney or liver disease. If your dog has unexplained bad breath, it’s best to get your vet’s opinion.

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