Just like humans' teeth, dogs' teeth can become yellow, stained, and covered with tartar. The main difference is that people brush their teeth multiple times a day and dogs can't! Some dog owners do brush their dog's teeth, but often, cleaning their dog's teeth is not something they do on a regular basis.
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If your dog develops plaque on her teeth, calcium deposits in her saliva can combine with the plaque and form tartar. Dog tartar can build up and cause tooth decay, gum disease, tooth loss, and other medical issues related to gum disease. Typically, hardened tartar that has built up over time must be removed by a veterinarian who uses specialized tools and anesthesia to put the dog under while the work is performed.
You can prevent some of the stress of having to take your dog to the vet for this dog-teeth cleaning by being proactive about cleaning and removing tartar buildup on your dog's teeth at home, without the use of a vet. Regular brushing as well as the use of dental chews and chew toys is shown to be effective tools against plaque and tartar.
Is dog tartar a problem?
Tartar starts as sticky, yellow plaque, which begins to form from a combination of food and the saliva in a dog's mouth after he eats. Purina explains that the bacteria that makes plaque sticky causes more bacteria to grow. Too much bacteria on teeth can lead to inflamed gums, tooth loss, bad breath, abscesses, and more problems.
Once plaque hardens, it turns into tartar. Tartar causes gingivitis, which in turn can become periodontal disease if it is not treated. In this condition, the gum recedes from the tooth and can become infected. The American Veterinary Dental College says that periodontal disease can lead to bacteria from the mouth entering the bloodstream, which is associated with changes to the heart, liver, and kidneys.
Brush your dog's teeth daily
Veterinarians recommend daily tooth brushing for your dog. Banfield Pet Hospital says to start brushing your dog's teeth as early as possible in her life, so she gets used to it. Daily brushing is best, but any amount of brushing that you can do is better than none. Using a soft finger toothbrush like Vet's Best work well because they stay on your finger while allowing you to reach all of your pet's mouth. Dogs often take to these better than a stick-type of toothbrush. You can even encourage your dog to clean their teeth on their own with a toothbrush chew toy that holds toothpaste and is fun to play with. Your dog will love the poultry flavor of a toothpaste such as Sentry Petrodex enzymatic dog toothpaste that freshens breath and keeps tartar at bay.
Banfield also recommends getting your dog's teeth professionally cleaned once a year, even if you are diligent about cleaning her teeth at home. These visits to the vet are a good time for your vet to check over any other health issues your dog may have, and keep any more serious issues such as gum disease — which can lead to heart problems if left untreated — at bay.
Dog teeth cleaning
Dog teeth cleaning, when it is done in a vet's office, is often called dental scaling. The American Veterinary Dental College says that having a vet clean your dog's teeth under anesthesia is a good idea because dog tartar is firmly adhered to the surface of the teeth. The veterinarian uses professional equipment such as ultrasonic tools and hand instruments to remove the stuck-on tartar.
When a veterinarian performs scaling, they are removing tartar from not only the surface of the teeth, but also tartar that builds up below the gum line, which is difficult to remove at home. This under-the-gum bacteria is critical to remove because that is what can eventually get into the blood stream of a patient if it is left untreated. A vet will also use a dog tooth polisher. The AVDC says that polishing following scaling in a comprehensive veterinary dental cleaning leaves a clean, white tooth with a smooth surface.
You can give your dog an at-home teeth cleaning experience with something like the Frienda Dog Tartar Remover Set. It includes brushes for tooth scaling, cleaning and polishing.
How to soften dog tartar
When your dog was a puppy, chances are he had clean, white teeth. But over time, stains and odor can develop. If your dog yawns and you can really smell it, that's a sign that his teeth need to be cleaned. It's best to prevent rather than try to soften dog tartar to remove it, because tartar gets quite hard.
The Puppy Place recommends regular brushing as well as the use of chew toys and chew treats for dog dental hygiene. The chew toys can help prevent dog tartar from building up on his teeth, and can also help it to flake off as he chews. Some dog chews contain anti-tartar additives that can help keep your dog's teeth (and breath!) fresh, and help prevent plaque and tartar from building up as fast as it normally would.
Arm & Hammer's Smilies Dental Treats are peppermint-flavored for fresh breath, and remove plaque from dog's teeth as they chew. Pedigree's Dentastix are similar. These chicken-flavored sticks for small dogs scrape away tartar from their teeth as they chew.
Dog's Naturally Magazine promotes a natural way to remove plaque from dogs' teeth. The first step is to feed your dog a healthy diet including raw, meaty bones or antlers. This chewing action helps keep tartar from building up in the first place. Antlers may even be better than raw bones because the antlers are quite hard and they don't need to be refrigerated like a real bone does.
This resource says that sometimes dry dog kibble is said to help with anti-tartar because of the chewing, but, in fact, it doesn't because dogs don't spend a lot of time chewing their kibble; they mostly swallow it whole!
Some breeds develop more tartar
Dog's Naturally Magazine says certain dogs seem to be more likely to develop tartar. Short-nosed breeds and toy breeds have a mouth shape that doesn't allow their teeth to meet in their jaw. This reduces the effectiveness of chewing to remove debris from their teeth. Again, if this is the case, daily brushing is recommended.
Small-breed dogs have small mouths, which can lead to teeth overcrowding, thus bacteria builds up more quickly in the mouths of small dogs. And brushing a small mouth with overcrowded teeth is more difficult.
Dog dental home care
The Puppy Place has two additional suggestions for how to clean tartar from a dog's teeth with no vet. Some liquids can be added to your dog's water that help control tartar. These water additives have chlorhexidine as an ingredient, which is shown to reduce the amount of bacteria in the dog's teeth and mouth.
You don't have to visit your vet for chlorhexidine water additives like TrisDent. This beef-flavored combination contains .12 percent chlorhexidine and is meant to be added in single teaspoon quantities to your pet's drinking water. The solution helps control plaque without brushing. Likewise, there are mouth sprays that perform the same function of helping to prevent bacteria from building up in your dog's mouth.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- Banfield Pet Hospital: Do I Need to Brush My Dog's Teeth?
- The Puppy Place: Tips to Remove Tartar in Dogs
- Dog's Naturally Magazine: A Natural Approach To Tartar Build Up
- American Veterinary Dental College: Dental Scaling Without Anesthesia
- American Veterinary Dental College: What is a Professional Veterinary Dental Cleaning?
- Purina Dental Life: Why Too Much Plaque is Dangerous
- American Veterinary Dental College: Periodontal Disease