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Brushes, wipes, and dental treats: How to clean your dog’s teeth

bluestem Oral Care Products

As pet parents, we know the importance of having a holistic approach when it comes to caring for our furry friends. With all the nail clippings, visits to the groomers, and flea and tick prevention, it's only natural for some things like dental care to get lost in the mix. While you might have heard the popular myth that a dog's mouth may be cleaner than ours, it's not really true — their mouths are full of bacteria that can contribute to dental problems.

Knowing the ins and outs of how to clean your dog's teeth is imperative for his overall health and happiness — and it doesn’t have to be difficult.

How do you clean your dog's teeth?

Toothbrushing remains the gold standard when it comes to keeping your dog's teeth fresh and clean, according to bluestem expert and small animal vet Dr. Jean Gauvin. But all pet parents know that the process can be an intimidating task — especially for those with fussy animals.

Dr. Gauvin has some universal tips to try:

  • Keep sessions short: Two short sessions of 10 minutes per day should be the perfect amount of brushing time for any pup.
  • Start them young: Even though puppies lose their baby teeth within their first four months of life, it's important to get them used to the toothbrush at a young age.
  • Buy the right toothpaste flavour: Just like their human counterparts, dogs have flavour preferences, too. Be sure to choose a flavour that your dog goes crazy over, so every toothbrushing session is like treat time.
  • Ease into it: Start out with a bit of toothpaste on your finger. Once your dog is used to that, allow him to lick the toothpaste off of the brush. If all goes well, you'll be able to get a quick brushing done once your pup is used to the sensation.
  • Positive reinforcement: Don't forget to give your pup an actual treat once the session is over, and make sure to give him plenty of praise throughout the quick process.

One of the most important toothbrushing tips is to make sure your dog goes gaga for the flavour, like bluestem's chicken toothpaste. As long as your dog is addicted to the flavour, says Dr. Gauvin, toothbrushing should become a breeze.

Why are pet-specific oral care products so important?

When caring for your dog’s oral health, it's important that you use only pet-formulated toothpaste, wipes, sprays, or additives. Never use human toothpaste to clean your dog’s teeth, as it is not meant to be swallowed and can contain ingredients such as xylitol and fluoride, which are harmful to your pet.

Oral care products for dogs are specially formulated and include safe additives that help reduce bacteria. All of bluestem's products contain Coactiv+™ Technology, which is a safe and effective additive that helps break down plaque and tartar without the use of any harsh chemicals or antimicrobials.

How does bluestem’s Coactiv+™ Technology work?

Bacteria in your dog's mouth contribute to plaque and tartar on his teeth. Some bacteria produce biofilm, which bluestem calls a sticky protective dome under which bacteria can rapidly multiply and speed up dental issues.

When plaque biofilm is not removed from your dog’s teeth every 12 to 36 hours, it will start to bind with minerals in his saliva and calcify into tartar. This tartar can then work its way up into the gum line, causing gingivitis and periodontal disease.

Remember, bad breath is usually the first telltale sign that a pet has underlying oral health issues.

How to clean a stubborn dog's teeth?

While many pet parents will win over their dogs with a delicious paste, some of our four-legged pals need a bit more coaxing. When brushing the teeth of a willful dog, the No. 1 ingredient is patience, says Dr. Gauvin.

"If your dog is afraid of the procedure and takes off every time he sees you get the toothpaste or toothbrush out, it's not going to work," he says. "You won't like it, either. [Toothbrushing] shouldn't be a chore."

Instead of seeing toothbrushing as a chore, try to reframe it as a bonding moment. So much of pet care has the potential to bring us closer to our dogs, and toothbrushing should be no different. While it's impossible to explain to our pets what exactly we're doing up in their mouths, there are ways to make sure this activity is as stress-free as possible.

"Don't get the toothbrush out first," he suggests. "Put the toothpaste on your finger and just give it to your dog like a treat. Once your dog is used to the toothpaste, put the toothpaste on the brush, let him lick it, and then eventually gently start [brushing]."

Dogs may not speak your language, but they can certainly read their parent's body language. "If we’re not happy, the dog won't be happy," he says. "It has to be fun for both the dog and you. Otherwise, you'll never do it."

How to clean a small dog's teeth

For pet parents of smaller dogs, their size can make oral care a bit more challenging because of their smaller mouths and jaws. For the little ones, Dr. Gauvin recommends using wipes, like bluestem's Dental Wipes, if the traditional toothpaste-and-brush method is proving too frustrating.

"Wipes contain ingredients that will prevent the formation of plaque and tartar. You just wrap them around your finger and put them to the teeth and gums," he says. This technique should take less than 30 seconds and is easier and gentler for smaller dogs — and less difficult for pet parents.

How do dental treats work

Brushing isn't always enough for some pets, and that’s where dental treats come in handy. Offering your dog dental treats that assist in the cleaning process, either mechanically or with active ingredients, can help keep his teeth clean.

Dr. Gauvin says there are two categories of dental treats that can help prevent future dental problems for your dog.

  • Mechanical dental treats break into pieces once your dog bites into them. Those pieces rub against your dog's teeth to help physically remove tartar and plaque buildup.
  • Dental treats with active ingredients provide the mechanical benefits and also include additives that help to prevent the formation of plaque. bluestem makes dental chews for small dogs and dental chews for medium-size and large dogs.

Dr. Gauvin recommends dental treats with active ingredients, like bluestem Oral Care Dental Chews for Dogs, for their "dual effect." These not only contain bluestem Coactiv+™ Technology, but also assist in loosening any stuck food or debris in your dog's mouth when he chews on them.

When it comes to dental treats, it's also important they aren't too hard. "You have to be able to bend them because some dental treats are so hard they can cause fractures, what we call slab fractures," he says.

However, if your dog already has severe dental health problems, or no teeth at all, dental treats can cause more harm than good. Dr. Gauvin stresses that it's important to consult your veterinarian for a thorough exam if your dog has any dental issues, like a buildup of plaque, red gums, or bad breath.

What are other ways to care for my dog's dental health

Brushing your dog's teeth for a short time twice a day is, of course, the most effective way to keep her teeth clean, but there are other options to keep her mouth in tip-top shape between brushing.

Consider these other products as part of your dog's oral care routine for added protection:

  • Water additives: If you're looking for an easy way to improve your dog's oral health, try a water additive like bluestem's Water Additive. Adding two capfuls to 600 mL (2.5 cups) of your dog's drinking water helps improve her oral hygiene and won't leave any residue or foam in her bowl. In an independent study, dogs were given bluestem's Water Additive in their daily drinking water. By 84 days, their teeth showed a 25.4% reduction in tartar — without even brushing. bluestem's Water Additive comes in original flavour, chicken flavour, and vanilla mint flavour.
  • Sprays: Sprays provide quick application and easily target the gums and the back of the mouth. bluestem's Oral Spray is a great alternative for sensitive or fussy dogs, or for pups on a raw diet that don't drink a lot of additional water. To apply the spray, simply lift your dog's upper lip, exposing her teeth and gums, and spray twice on each side of her mouth.

If those options don’t fit your dog’s dental care routine, you can also try these:

  • Gel: As your dog licks a gel, the texture allows the product to coat his teeth and gum line.
  • Foam: The foaming action provides quick application and can expand into hard-to-reach spaces, like in between teeth.

When should I start oral care for my puppy?

The answer is simple: as soon as you get your puppy home. While it might seem like puppies don't need dental care because they lose their teeth within their first four months, Dr. Gauvin says getting them used to toothbrushing as early as possible is critical because it ensures fewer snags in their dental routine once all their adult teeth come in.

Dr. Gauvin recommends starting out by getting your puppy used to your finger with toothpaste on it before graduating to a toothbrush. It's crucial that your new best friend loves the toothpaste flavour as quickly as possible, too, so toothbrushing time is like treat time.

Causes of poor dental health in dogs and how to spot it

When it comes to the overall health of your dog, prevention reigns supreme. 'Poor dental health in dogs is caused by the absence of oral care at home," Dr. Gauvin explains.

Most humans brush two or three times per day and floss once per day. However, we still need our teeth professionally cleaned twice a year by a dental hygienist. "If your dog doesn't receive any home dental care daily, then you can expect him to have poor dental health at the end of the year," he says.

Certain breeds are also more susceptible to dental diseases than others.

"Vets will say that smaller breeds have more dental issues than larger breeds," says Dr. Gauvin, adding that all dogs, regardless of their jaw size, have the same number of teeth. "[In smaller dogs], the teeth will be crowded and crooked, and this will promote the accumulation of food between the teeth."

Poor dental health is sometimes unavoidable if, for example, a dog is adopted from a shelter and his history is unknown. In cases like these, it’s important to know how to spot bad dental health before it gets worse.

"The first sign of gum disease in dogs is bad breath. Bad breath is not normal for dogs," says Dr. Gauvin, adding that many owners bring their dogs to the vet only once their breath is unbearably bad, meaning weeks or months of pain for their pups.

If bacteria isn't kept at bay in your dog's mouth, it can lead to bacteria moving throughout his bloodstream and affecting different organs. No matter how much you love your dog, there are always pet parent blind spots and a number of things you may not know about caring for your pet's teeth.

Above all, oral health is an excellent indicator of your dog's overall health and well-being. It's so important to take care of your furry friend's teeth for their dental health — and to keep you "in the know" on how your pet is doing. Remember, a happy dog is one with a happy mouth.