For many of us, going to the dentist is an unpleasant routine at best. But have you considered your dog’s oral health recently? It’s a common misconception that dogs' teeth are cleaned naturally as they chew on food, toys or treats, when in reality they need regular dental care just like us.
Without proper dental care, your dog may suffer from a variety of serious dental diseases. These can result in bad breath, tooth loss, infections of the teeth and gums, varying stages of periodontal disease, all from the buildup of plaque and tartar that would occur in people if we never brushed our teeth or saw the dentist. Many of these symptoms are painful and may hinder your dog’s ability to use their mouth normally for things like eating or playing, and vets hear all the time how much pet parents hate their dog’s stinky breath. That’s why regular dental care for your dog is so important.
Benefits of Having a Vet Clean Your Dog's Teeth
Brushing your dog’s teeth in between vet visits can really help with preventing plaque and tartar buildup, but having your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned by your veterinarian is also necessary to prevent dental disease as it is more thorough and effective. Regular dog dental care is particularly important for small dog breeds who are more prone to oral health problems or dogs that eat only wet food.
Even with the most cooperative dog, brushing at home cannot fully clean your pet’s teeth. This is why during a dental cleaning, your veterinarian will place your dog under general anesthesia, to do a deep, 360 degree clean of every tooth, as long as they’ve determined that your dog is healthy enough for anesthesia..
While your dog is under anesthesia, your veterinarian can remove tartar buildup below the gum line, which is out of reach when a dog is awake. Most dental diseases in dogs occur below the gumline, so this is an important benefit to having a vet clean your dog’s teeth that cannot be achieved through other oral healthcare.
It can also be unsafe or difficult for anyone to clean the inner surfaces of the teeth while your dog is conscious. Additionally, if a fully awake dog was to startle, they could accidentally scrape or cut their gums during the cleaning. This is why your veterinarian has to use anesthesia when cleaning your dog’s teeth.
Your veterinarian also has the medical training and experience to identify dental issues, such as periodontal or gum disease.
Periodontal disease is characterized by painful inflammation of the tissues surrounding the teeth and is extremely common. It’s estimated that two-thirds of dogs over the age of three have periodontal disease, making it crucial that dental cleanings begin during puppyhood and are done regularly at your vet’s recommendation.
(Image Source: Indy Vet Care)
What the Cost of a Dog's Teeth Cleaning Covers
The cost of a typical dog dental cleaning is usually between $300 to $700, which doesn’t include special treatments for periodontal disease or tooth extractions. These extras can add several hundred dollars more to the overall cost.
A typical dog dental cleaning will include the following:
- X-rays to assess the dog’s mouth, jaw, and the tooth roots that are invisible to our eyes below the gumline.
- Examination of the teeth, gums, tongue cheeks, and roof of the mouth for any oral disease or injury such as periodontal disease or infections.
- Scaling of the teeth, which removes tartar and plaque buildup.
- Polishing the teeth
- Use of anesthesia
It’s recommended that your dog undergo a professional dental cleaning every year to maintain optimal oral health and prevent dental disease.
If your dog has existing dental problems, your veterinarian may recommend additional treatments and more frequent cleanings. Prevention through regular dental cleanings and at home teeth brushing is essential to avoid significant oral health problems later in your dog’s life.
How to Keep Your Dog's Teeth Clean and Healthy Between Vet Visits
Brushing your dog’s teeth can be tricky at first, but most dogs will get used to it. Use special canine toothpaste in an appetizing flavor, such as peanut butter or poultry, to encourage their cooperation with this. Talk to your vet to ensure you are using toothpaste made specifically for dogs, ingesting human toothpaste can be very bad for your dog’s health.
By brushing your dog’s teeth regularly, you can help them to avoid painful and more expensive dental procedures in the future. But you can start slow, first get your dog used to the yummy flavor of the toothpaste on your finger as they get more used to your fingers in and around their mouth. Brushing first with just your finger and the doggy toothpaste until they are comfortable with you touching all 42 of their teeth, even the ones in the very back, will make it much easier to then introduce the toothbrush into the equation. Remember to be patient, working on teeth brushing with your pet for a few minutes every day will have you maintaining their dental health like a pro in a few weeks or less! And always feel free to reach out to your veterinary hospital for tips or recommended products, many vets sell their preferred brands of canine toothpaste and toothbrushes in the clinic.
Additionally, there are many dental chews and treats on the market for dogs. Dental chews and treats are fun for your dog, help with bad breath, and minimize the plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth.
If your dog has a significant problem with plaque, your veterinarian may recommend a special diet. These diets typically consist of specially shaped kibbles that will work to both mechanically and chemically break down plaque and tartar buildup.
(Image Source: Cascade Kennels)
Best products for keeping your dog's teeth healthy
Dental care products for dogs are usually available right at your favorite vet’s office, but can be found at most speciality pet stores or large retailers, like Walmart or Amazon. If you aren’t buying from your vet’s office or online pharmacy, be sure to take a close look at the ingredients in the dental product before giving it to your dog.
Remember, it’s crucial that you do not use human toothpaste, as many contain xylitol and harsh detergents which are toxic ingredients to dogs. You should also avoid chews or bones made out of starches, like corn or potato, to avoid scratching your dog’s teeth and gums, particularly if they have poor dental health.
Here's a few safe options
Try dog toothpastes containing at least one of the following ingredients:
- Baking soda for fighting bad breath and brightening the teeth.
- Enzymatic formulated toothpastes for keeping your dog’s teeth and gums healthier with the use of tartar destroying enzymes.
- Neem oil, aloe, and grapefruit seeds as natural ingredient options for keeping your dog’s teeth healthy.
If your dog refuses to let you brush their teeth after several attempts, try dog dental wipes. These are simply rubbed directly against your dog’s teeth and gums to help control plaque.
Oral gels and rinses are also available. Look for products with chlorhexidine, which is highly effective in preventing plaque buildup. We recommend a flavored option, as these oral gels and rinses can have a displeasing taste. And again, be sure you are getting a veterinary endorsed product specifically for dogs.
Caring for your dog’s teeth at home is important, but ultimately regular professional dental cleanings are paramount for keeping your dog’s mouth healthy and disease-free.
How to save on costs
When looking into regular dental care for your dog, know that you can use pet insurance to get reimbursed on the costs. Accident and illness plans can cover illness-related cleaning, peridontal disease, and tooth extractions. For most families in the US, dog insurance is worth it - considering many cannot afford unexpected veterinary costs. For routine cleanings, wellness plan add-ons will reimburse up to $100-$200 annually for dental cleanings.
Be proactive about protecting your dog's oral health. Explore the products above and use Pawlicy Advisor to find the best pet health coverage plan at the best price.