Tooth brushing is an often-overlooked aspect of home care for guide, hearing, and service dogs, even though “Brushing your dog’s teeth is the single most effective means to maintain oral health between professional dental examinations,” notes the American Veterinary Dental College. Taking care of your service dog’s mouth isn’t just a way to stave off bad breath; it helps prevent periodontal disease, which is quite common in dogs, as well as potentially serious complications when oral bacteria spreads elsewhere in the body.
Tooth Brushing Tools
Specially made dog toothbrushes (opt for soft-bristled brushes) are the easiest way to brush your dog’s teeth, but they aren’t the only way. A clean piece of gauze or bristled finger brushes are commonly used, and they work well for beginning and intermediary steps leading up to a toothbrush if you’re just starting to expose your service dog to the tooth cleaning experience. With trial and error, you may find your dog prefers one type of brushing implement over the others.
Only use a canine toothpaste; human products have ingredients that are harmful to dogs if swallowed or inhaled. You’ll have an easier time of it anyway, as dog toothpastes are available in palate-pleasing flavors like chicken, fish, and malt. Again, it may take a few tries to find a product your dog loves enough to eagerly accept brushing.
Tooth Brushing Process
Ideally, brush your assistance dog’s teeth daily or close to it. This is an important hygiene measure between professional veterinary cleanings, which are recommended once or twice per year. If you can’t, dry food (including some designed specifically for dental care), hard biscuits, and other chew items can help promote dental health by physically scraping off food particles and plaque during chewing.
As with bathing and grooming tasks, it can take a while for your dog to become accustomed to and accepting of tooth brushing, and it’s typically easier the younger the dog starts and if it’s built up to gradually.
Once you get the process down, it should only take about 2 minutes to brush your service dog’s teeth. Only brush the outer-facing sides of the teeth, as few dogs allow the inside-facing sides to be brushed. Carefully pull your dog’s lips away from her teeth and gently brush all the teeth, the gum line, and the gums, making sure you reach to the back teeth, as molars are especially prone to food, plaque, and tartar buildup.
Remember to keep the tooth brushing process positive. Immediately reinforce cooperative behavior with praise, physical affection, and possibly a favorite activity.
Be on the Lookout
If your assistance dog repeatedly refuses to let you brush her teeth, it may be due to discomfort or pain she experiences during the process, which points to a problem. Also, while you expose your dog’s teeth and gums for brushing, look closely for tooth or gum discoloration; gum inflammation or bleeding; loose, cracked, chipped, or broken teeth; growths in the mouth; and other concerns or abnormalities. Consistent aversion to brushing or any such signs of oral diseases are cause for a prompt veterinary dental exam.
If you’d find it helpful to watch a video of a proper canine tooth brushing, the Banfield Pet Hospital has a good one at www.banfield.com/pet-health-resources/preventive-care/dental/at-home-care-video.
Periodontal disease is the most common health problem in adult dogs, and it’s preventable. Learn more about it at www.avdc.org/periodontaldisease.html.
Read more about dog dental hygiene and diseases from the ASPCA at www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/ten-steps-your-dogs-dental-health.
Review a list of products awarded the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s Seal of Approval at www.vohc.org/accepted_products.htm.