Attack the Plaque

Owners often neglect teeth brushing, and some groomers don't offer the service, or they may do offer it as an add-on service. The problem is this: If you don't brush away the plaque on your dog's teeth on a regular basis, it builds up, gets hard, and then the veterinarian has to scrape it away. Plaque develops on teeth first, and if not removed consistently will transform into the hard deposit called tartar.

Having your groomer brush the dog's teeth when you don't do it at home doesn't help much; after all, if you went two months without brushing your teeth how do you think your gums would look? Thinking, “Oh, the groomer brushes his teeth every appointment” is false security. You can't remove two months of tartar build up with one tooth-brushing session. By that time, you may need to have them scaled.

Feeding dry dog food may help your dog to scrape her teeth on the food, but think of this: When you eat crackers or dry cereal, doesn't it soften in your mouth and accumulate around your teeth? There is no difference with your dog. Many times, chewing on bones (make sure you never leave a dog to chew anything unsupervised) can help a dog scrape his own teeth, but it's impossible for him to scrape all sides of his teeth. Once the gums are red, gingivitis has set in and you will probably need some antibiotics and a scaling in order to stop the infection.

You can see the discolored tartar that has accumulated on this dog's canine tooth and the ones beside it.


The gums are reddened from gingivitis and the dog's owner complains of her having bad breath. After the groomer pointed out what was causing the bad breath, the owner made an appointment to get her dog's teeth cleaned at the vet.

What to Use

You can use regular human toothbrushes, and there are many toothbrushes on the market for pets as well. There are flavored doggie toothpastes and some that have no flavor but work great. You don't want to use human toothpaste because it can make your dog sick if he ingests it. After all, he won't rinse and spit like you do.

There are products to add to your pet's drinking water that will soften up plaque on their teeth so it can be brushed away much easier. Oxyfresh® makes one called Pet Oral Hygiene Solution®, and they also make a pet toothbrush and tooth gel that work great on pet teeth. You can find out more on their Web site: or by calling 1-800-333-7374.

You can even use a piece of gauze wrapped around your finger with doggy toothpaste on it to brush the teeth. This works especially well for dogs that don't like the brushes in their mouths. The main thing is to remove the sticky plaque so it doesn't become hard tarter.

How to Begin

If you have never brushed your dog's teeth and are not sure how to begin, start by putting your dog up on the grooming table or surface and put a grooming loop around her neck. Pet your dog's face, then rub along the lip line and pull the lip up. Praise your dog and do it again. Now pull the lip back so you can see your dog's molars. Again, be sure to give lots of praise. Put your finger in your dog's mouth; you can put gauze over your finger and rub your dog's teeth. More praise. Continue doing this until your dog no longer fights your finger. Then you can add pet toothpaste to the gauze and rub it on. Once your dog is comfortable with that, you can use a toothbrush and do the same thing. Molars accumulate the most plaque, so concentrate on the rear molars first.

Oxyfresh Pet Gel is odorless and tasteless, but it does a great job of dissolving tartar. It can reduce or even eliminate the need for expensive professional dental cleanings. In addition to wiping out tartar, it alleviates bad breath and soothes diseased or sensitive gums.

Always start with baby steps until your dog is comfortable, then you can move on to another step. Be firm and don't allow your dog to chew on your finger; this isn't playtime. Once your dog understands you are doing something and he must tolerate it, he will usually comply. After brushing, reward your dog with a high-value treat, used only for when he allows you to brush his teeth. Ideally, you should brush your dog's teeth daily, but if you can only get it done once a week, then that should suffice — just be thorough.

Common Sense

Taking care of your dog's teeth is just like taking care of your own: If you don't brush your teeth, you will soon have tartar, bad breath, and gingivitis. So will your dog. If you don't take care of your own teeth, they will soon rot and fall out and you will have trouble eating. So will your dog. People can get false teeth. Dogs can't.

Neglecting an old dog's teeth because of fear of the dog dying under anesthesia doesn't help; the gum infection doesn't just stay in the gums. It becomes systemic and can affect the heart, and the dog can die a slow, painful death just from the infection that started in her mouth. Besides, today's anesthesia methods are much safer than years ago. Using a gas anesthesia instead of an injectable type is safer for many pets who don't tolerate anesthesia well. Some breeds of dogs are particularly prone to intolerance of anesthesia, but if your vet is using newer methods and procedures, you shouldn't fear a teeth cleaning for your pet. Many elderly pets fifteen to seventeen years of age have gotten their first teeth cleaning, only after their groomers finally persuaded the owners to get it done. Think of it this way: If your dog dies under anesthesia, that would be awful, but your dog is going to die from the infection in her mouth that has spread throughout her body if you don't get it done, and that is much more painful.

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