7 Reasons Why You Should Brush Your Dog’s Teeth

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Murrie, who does not enjoy having her teeth brushed, refused to participate in the research, creation, or promotion of this blog on canine dental health.  She wants you to know that the cover photo was taken and published without her permission.  She claims that she has, however, had her teeth brushed, on average, about 42 times a day for the past 5 days -- also without her consent.

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95% of dog owners don’t do it, so why should you?  In honor of National Pet Dental Health Month, we’re going to give you 7 solid reasons why you should brush your dog’s teeth every day.¹

#1  Dodge the Dog Breath.

Phew! Why does your dog’s breath stink?  It could be oral bacteria. Within a few hours after your dog eats, plaque begins to develop on his teeth. And what is dental plaque?² It is a sticky biofilm of bacteria — odor-causing bacteria. Brushing regularly with an enzymatic toothpaste for dogs can help remove a lot of that nasty plaque and freshen your dog’s breath.

#2  Pearly White is Pretty.

If plaque isn’t removed every day, it begins to mineralize, hardening into yellow or brown tartar. Rachel from Ohio tells us she brushes her 3-year-old husky’s teeth at least once a week, going over all the teeth a few times. “This only takes me a couple minutes, and it’s worth the effort to see Laika’s pearly whites!”

#3  Just say No to Gingivitis.

This picture shows a healthy, clean tooth supported by healthy gums

This picture shows a healthy, clean tooth supported by healthy gums

Tartar buildup is more than a canine cosmetic catastrophe: it irritates the gums, and its rough surface isthe perfect incubator for bacteria to flourish, further inflaming the gums.  Now we have gingivitis: red, swollen gums that bleed easily.   But there is good news: canine gingivitis is reversible — if you start brushing your dog’s teeth daily!  (If you can’t commit to every day, aim to brush your dog’s teeth at least three times a week — every bit helps.)

#4 Prevent Periodontal Disease.

While gingivitis is a reversible, early-stage periodontal disease, without regular brushing, it advances to more severe, irreversible forms of canine periodontitis.  The tartar and bacteria creep under the gum

Mutt Maps’ veterinary consultant, Dr. Danielle Downs, DVM, says that in this picture, the dog “appears to have Stage One periodontal disease - gingivitis only.  After a complete dental cleaning that removes all plaque and tartar with continued at-home dental care, this dog’s mouth can heal completely.  At-home care means brushing teeth and or applying a chlorhexidine-based oral rinse or gel.”

Mutt Maps’ veterinary consultant, Dr. Danielle Downs, DVM, says that in this picture, the dog “appears to have Stage One periodontal disease – gingivitis only. After a complete dental cleaning that removes all plaque and tartar with continued at-home dental care, this dog’s mouth can heal completely. At-home care means brushing teeth and or applying a chlorhexidine-based oral rinse or gel.”

line, separating the gum from the tooth and creating pockets where bacteria can breed.  Veterinarian Danielle Downs says that “eventually, if left untreated, infection from dental disease will travel deep into the bone surrounding the teeth, causing tooth loss, pain, abscesses, fistulas and, in severe cases, sepsis.”  And if it gets worse, it can lead to bone loss and weakness, even resulting in jaw fractures. Ouch.

#5  Obviate Organ Damage.

You probably know that your dental health is related to your overall health.  The same is true for your dog.  “Gingivitis and periodontitis are chronic stressors for the body’s immune system,” Dr. Downs says.  And we hear that once the bacteria is deep under the gum or invading the bone, it can be absorbed into the bloodstream and damage your dog’s internal organs!

Jaimie, a vet tech from Oregon sent us this picture. This poor dog’s gums have receded to painfully expose the roots, and some teeth are missing. Not only does this make it painful to eat, but as Jaimie says, “Imagine how taxing this is on the immune system!”  It hurts just to look at the picture!

Jaimie, a vet tech from Oregon sent us this picture. This poor dog’s gums have receded to painfully expose the roots, and some teeth are missing. Not only does this make it painful to eat, but as Jaimie says, “Imagine how taxing this is on the immune system!” It hurts just to look at the picture!

Kiwi, a 7-year-old cockapoo from upstate New York had a recent health scare stemming from her dental problems.  Her human, Nora, tells us that Kiwi’s teeth were cleaned a year and half ago, and the vet recommended brushing.  They didn’t, and… “This past December, she was ill with badly infected gums.  Puss coming out of them.  She lost weight, and her liver values were out of sight.  I was so worried that I might lose her.  I knew that gum disease can lead to a host of health problems including heart, kidney, and liver disease. I never thought it would get that bad with her.”

#6  Save Money on Vet Bills.

If you don’t remove your dog’s plaque and tartar yourself, you may have to pay a veterinarian to do it.  The cost of a veterinary dental cleaning (which may include a pre-cleaning visit, blood workup, ultrasonic and hand scaling of the tartar, anesthesia, and an antibiotic injection) could cost you at least $75 and up to $500 or more, depending on where you live and the size, age, and overall health of your dog.  And that’s

Dr. Downs says this dog “appears to have Stage Three periodontal disease, which is characterized by at least 25% bone loss around the tooth, as well as exposure of the roots (furcation exposure). There may also be an abscess present, which would be evaluated by probing and radiographs. This is advanced periodontal disease that often results in tooth loss. Surgical extraction, oral and topical antibiotics, and bone grafts may be necessary to heal this area... If this photo is representative of the whole mouth, it could easily cost over $1000.

Dr. Downs says this dog “appears to have Stage Three periodontal disease, which is characterized by at least 25% bone loss around the tooth, as well as exposure of the roots (furcation exposure). There may also be an abscess present, which would be evaluated by probing and radiographs. This is advanced periodontal disease that often results in tooth loss. Surgical extraction, oral and topical antibiotics, and bone grafts may be necessary to heal this area… If this photo is representative of the whole mouth, it could easily cost over $1000.

just for a cleaning.  But if you don’t brush your dog’s teeth and you don’t get the vet to clean them before periodontal disease gets serious, the cost for your dog’s tooth extractions or other surgery could be double, even running to the thousands.

David from Texas regrets putting off a veterinary dental cleaning for his 12-year-old daschund, Sophia.  “My poor dog was in a lot of pain. She was developing abscesses and had 4 teeth pulled. If I’d had Sophia’s teeth cleaned as recommended by the vet, the cost would have been $200.  Lesson: at the regular yearly vet checkup, if the vet recommends and says it is time for a tooth cleaning, then get it done!”

#7  Because You Love Your Dog .

We know you want what’s best for your dog, and you don’t want to see her in pain or sick.  Since Kiwi’s recent health scare, Nora is a convert, brushing her dog’s teeth daily.  “Kiwi means the world to me, and I want her to be healthy and to live a long life.”

Our loyal buddies can’t do much to take care of their own dental health: they’re counting on us to take the time and effort to do it for them.  So why do I have to brush my dog’s teeth every day? Because she knows I love her, and she trusts me with her care.  And that is the best reason of all.

A special tail-wagging thank you to our veterinarian consultant, Dr. Danielle Downs, DVM!  Dr. Downs is a small-animal veterinarian at Lums Pond Animal Hospital in Bear, Delaware. She focuses her practice on dog and cat wellness, preventative medicine, sick-patient care and general surgery.  She is also a busy mom, so we especially appreciate her time and expertise!

We’d also extend our thanks to Jaime the vet tech, Rachel, David, Nora, and all of the great folks who commented and so generously offered information on the Facebook Page, Hiking WIth Dogs!  You guys are PAWesome! Read all about their doggie hiking adventures and get more good advice from them at https://www.facebook.com/search/str/Hiking%20With%20Dogs/keywords_top

Need information on how to brush your pet’s teeth?  Check out this great article on the ASPCA website: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/brushing-your-dogs-teeth

Other sources (just so you know we’re not making this all up!)

  1. VCA Animal Hospitals, “How Do Plaque and Tartar Form, and What Do They Do?” VCA Hospitals, http://www.vcahospitals.com/main/pet-health-information/article/animal-health/tartar-prevention-in-dogs/1005 (accessed 9 February 2015)
  2. Pet 360, “Gum Disease in Dogs,” PetMD, http://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/mouth/c_multi_periodontal_disease (accessed 11 February 2015)
  3. Dr. Andy Roark, “Veterinarian Confession: ‘I Don’t Brush My Dog’s Teeth,” VetStreet, Vetstreet, Inc., http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/veterinarian-confession-i-dont-brush-my-dogs-teeth (accessed 11 February 2015)

¹Murrie, who does not enjoy having her teeth brushed, refused to participate in the research, creation, or promotion of this blog on canine dental health.  She wants you to know that the cover photo was taken and published without her permission.  She claims that she has, however, had her teeth brushed, on average, about 42 times a day for the past 5 days — also without her consent.

² Your dog’s bad breath can be caused by other conditions, too, like health issues in the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, or other internal organs, so be sure to talk to your vet.

³Joanne Barker, “Oral Health: The Mouth-Body Connection,” WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/features/oral-health-the-mouth-body-connection (accessed 10 February 2015)

4  For examples, please see these webpages: http://youdidwhatwithyourweiner.com/how-much-does-it-cost-to-get-a-dogs-teeth-cleaned/,  http://pets.costhelper.com/dog-teeth-cleaning.html

5 Veterinary Pet Insurance, “Top Ten Pet Surgeries: Pet Owners Pay a Hefty Price for Treatment,” VPI, http://www.petinsurance.com/healthzone/pet-articles/pet-health/Top-10-Pet-Surgeries.aspx (accessed 11 February 2015)

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