Educating Dog Owners about Home Dental Care

Published on May 25, 2020 by Kyle Shelstad

Pet owner providing their dog with dental care

Vet techs customarily perform routine dental cleanings on dogs as part of their regular duties. However, Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians (AVDA) recommends vet techs work with veterinarians to perform dental surgery.  Regulations in some areas allow vet techs to perform simple tooth extractions while in others, extractions are listed as a task that a vet tech “may handle.”

The best course of action for a vet tech who wants to pursue a career in animal dental care is to specialize. After earning an Associate of Veterinary Technology degree, students can choose a career as a Veterinary Technology Specialist in Dentistry (VTS). Most vet techs pursue an associate degree and work in an animal hospital or emergency clinic where they can provide various nursing services for pets, including assisting a veterinarian with dental procedures.

Veterinary Dentistry and Vet Techs

One of the core courses in a vet tech associate degree program is veterinary dentistry. While a licensed vet tech does not perform oral surgery, they provide dental care for animals in the form of:

Veterinarians must handle surgical procedures, diagnosing dental diseases in dogs, and prescribing necessary medications and treatments. A vet tech can however educate a dog owner on how to care for a dog’s teeth. As a vet tech, this is how you can educate your clients about home dental care.

Why is Brushing a Dog’s Teeth Important?

Daily brushing is as essential for a dog as it is for humans. Even though dogs don’t consume the full range of foods that people do, they still require regular dental care. Reasons that a dog’s teeth should get daily brushings include:

Most dogs have some signs of periodontal disease by the time they reach three years of age. However, owners don’t always know there’s a problem because dogs may be in pain from tooth decay or an abscess and still eat. Proper oral care for dogs starts with regular check-ups. Pet owners should schedule a yearly dental appointment for their dogs that includes a complete exam, x-rays, and a cleaning that is done under general anesthesia.

Problems That Arise From Not Brushing a Dog’s Teeth

There are many different reasons a dog owner should brush their dog’s teeth. They include reducing bad breath, preventing tooth loss, stopping plaque build-up, and reducing heart disease.

Bad Breath

Bad breath in dogs can be a sign of a dental or gum issue. The problem could include an infection, tooth decay or disease of the gums. If you suspect that your dog may have a dental problem, you should schedule an appointment with your vet.

Tooth Loss

Loss of teeth in dogs can be caused by periodontal disease. Tooth loss often occurs when dogs develop gingivitis, a condition in which the dog’s gums get inflamed. Sometimes dogs can lose teeth as a result of trauma. Other causes of tooth loss include a tooth that is improperly formed or didn’t grow in at the gum line. Lack of teeth can inhibit a dog’s ability to eat hard foods and treats.

Plaque Build-up

Plaque can form on a dog’s teeth just like it can on humans. The plaque hardens into a substance called calculus, which can cause a variety of canine diseases. Brushing a dog’s teeth at least twice a week with dog specific toothpaste and a toothbrush specially designed for canines can help to prevent plaque build-up.

Heart Disease

When bacteria forms in the pockets of the gums, it can get into a dog’s bloodstream and cause several severe medical conditions, including heart, liver, or kidney disease. It’s vital to keep your dog’s teeth and gums healthy to prevent life-threatening infections.

If you haven’t ever brushed your dog’s teeth, it’s never too late to start. Even dogs that are older can get accustomed to having their teeth cleaned if the process is slow and gradual.

How to Start Brushing a Puppy’s Teeth

When you adopt a puppy, the time to start brushing its teeth is when it has its permanent teeth, and it has learned basic obedience. Some puppies take to having their teeth brushed early; with others, it may take a little more time and patience.

To get a puppy accustomed to having their mouth touched, you can begin by massaging its gums when you are holding them. When your puppy is used to having its mouth touched, you can start by using a toothbrush for dogs that fits on the end of your finger. Place a small amount of dog toothpaste on the brush and gently brush the puppy’s teeth. Once or twice a week is enough to start with.

Gradually work your way up to three or four brushings each week. Some toothbrushes are double-sided, so the inside and outside of the tooth can be brushed at the same time. If you do not have a toothbrush that is specifically for canines, a baby toothbrush will work.

How to Start with Adult Dogs

If you haven’t brushed your dog’s teeth before, the first step is to get it used to the dog toothpaste and brush. Put a small amount of dog toothpaste on the brush and start by gently brushing the front teeth. Gradually brush more of the dog’s teeth every few days until you reach all the back teeth. If your dog objects to the toothbrush, flavored dental wipes are available.

What to Use to Brush a Dog’s Teeth

You should never use toothpaste that is created for human use on a dog. Toothpaste for people contains certain types of detergents and fluoride that are supposed to be rinsed out with water after use. Dogs would swallow these ingredients which would be harmful. You should only use a toothpaste for pet use. Most of the canine toothpaste is flavored, so it’s appealing to dogs.

Talk to your veterinarian about the best toothbrush for your dog. The heads of toothbrushes that are designed for human use are too big for a dog’s mouth. Your veterinarian may suggest the best kind of toothbrush for your dog. Finger brushes don’t work well with small breed dogs since they’re too big, and you may not be able to clean the dog’s teeth sufficiently. A lot of canine dental problems are worse on the upper and back teeth, so make sure to do a thorough cleaning.

Play with your dog, praise your dog, and be encouraging before and after brushing their teeth. Some veterinarians recommend brushing the teeth just before feeding, then praising your dog for a job well done. The dog will soon learn to associate teeth cleaning with a positive experience.

Mistakes to Avoid When Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth

Veterinary dentists recommend not trying to open your dog’s mouth when brushing their teeth at home. Most dogs will start struggling and get stressed. The easiest way to clean the teeth is to keep your dog’s mouth closed and gently lift its lips for brushing. Always use a gentle motion when brushing your pet’s teeth. A dog’s gums and teeth could become damaged if they’re scrubbed too hard. While it’s essential to get your pet’s teeth clean, you should be cautious.

Another suggestion if you want to start brushing your pet’s teeth at home is to schedule a professional cleaning with your veterinarian. Cat’s and dog’s gums are quite vascular, and bacteria could be pushed into the pet’s bloodstream if caution isn’t used when brushing their teeth for the first time.

There are some dogs who won’t take to having their teeth cleaned at home, no matter how persistent you are. However, you can still make sure your dog’s teeth and gums are healthy with professional cleanings and taking other steps at home that don’t involve brushing. Here are some suggestions to ensure good canine dental health.

Feed Your Dog High-Quality Pet Food

You should feed your dog high-quality pet food. If you aren’t sure which food to give your dog, ask your veterinarian for recommendations. Veterinarians often recommend buying pet products that are approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). The council researches claims from pet food and oral-health products to ensure they’re accurate. The council is the canine equivalent of the American Dental Association.

Use Chew Toys

Your dog or puppy should have playtime each day with toys that are pet safe. The best and safest dog toys carry the VOHC seal of approval. A list of the toys and dental chews that the council approves is available on their website.

Get an Annual Exam

Schedule regular dental examinations with your veterinarian at least once a year. The exam should include x-rays of your dog’s teeth and a complete cleaning that’s done under general anesthesia. In some cases, dogs might need professional dental care more than once a year, especially if they have any health problems. You should discuss dental care for your dog with your veterinarian.

The Right Diet Makes A Difference

One thing that many pet parents aren’t aware of is that dogs that actively chew a lot have fewer problems with plaque build-up on their teeth. Also, specific diets and treats for dogs can reduce plaque. The act of chewing hard kibble makes a difference in the amount of plaque build-up on a dog’s teeth.

Types of Treats That Help Keep Teeth Clean

Certain dog treats and dental chews are designed to remove tartar and plaque from a dog’s teeth through the process of chewing. Treats that remove plaque from a dog’s teeth are an excellent complement to a dental health plan.

The Greenies and Dentastix type chews are both excellent for preventing plaque and tartar build-up on your dog’s teeth. They’re available in different sizes to suit every dog breed and size. Dental chews are available in different flavors to suit each dog’s taste.

One unique dog treat that improves dental health is Whimzees. It is made in the shape of a dog toothbrush. There are no added chemicals in the treats, and they’re made entirely of vegetables. The treats are excellent for controlling bad breath and are gluten-free.

Make sure to only give your dog dental chews or treats when you’re at home and can watch your dog closely. If a dog bites off a small piece of a chew, it could choke. Fresh water should also be available for your dog, especially in the warm weather.

Final Thoughts

Did learning about how to educate dog owners about home dental care interest you? Ready to start a program to become a veterinary technician? With an Associate Degree in Veterinary Technology, you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to start an entry-level career as a veterinary technician. Broadview University has been part of the community for more than 40 years, so we’ve developed connections that can help move your career forward. After completing our accredited degree program, you’ll be eligible to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). Passing the VTNE allows you to become a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT), a designation that will give you a competitive advantage when you enter the job market.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a veterinary technician and working in veterinary technology.

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