How should I set about brushing my dog's teeth, and what should I use for him?

There are special dental care kits for dogs now available from various pet shops and veterinarian clinics. They generally consist of a mild canine toothpaste, plus a specially-designed brush to make the task easier.

Regular brushing every week or so will help to prevent a build-up of deposits of tartar (calculus) on the teeth. This originates from plaque, which then hardens to create these deposits, that stick in place.

Accumulations of tartar on the gum line can lead on to inflammation and localised infection, known as gingivitis. Erosion of the gum around the affected teeth is likely to follow, allowing bacteria to gain access to the root. This will not only be very painful, resulting in an abscess, but will weaken the support for the teeth in the jaws. Dogs suffer far more commonly from this type of dental problem rather than developing cavities in their teeth, as we do.

How to start

The simplest way to take care of a dog's teeth is to train your pet to allow you to brush them from puppyhood. Even so, it is possible to train an older dog on similar lines, provided that your pet will allow you to open its mouth without too much difficulty. You'll obviously need to take care that you are not bitten though!

Dog tooth brushingSee how you go at first, by lifting up the loose cheek skin and gently brushing the teeth from the side. Give your dog plenty of encouragement, but try not to let him become excited, because otherwise, it will be impossible to keep him still.

It may help to have someone else actually holding him, but beware that he doesn't become frightened as obviously, he could then snap out at you in fear. Much will therefore depend on how co-operative he is towards you!

Do not use human toothpaste, which foams up in the mouth and is unpleasant for dogs. This will otherwise cause problems if you want to brush your pet's teeth again in the future. Special canine toothbrush will therefore also help to make the task more straightforward.

Even so, there may come a time when your dog needs to have its teeth cleaned under anaesthetic by your vet. There is a suggestion that feeding wet rather than dry food may increase the risk of tartar accumulating, and certain breeds such as poodles seem rather more at risk from accumulations of tartar than others. On the other hand, so-called 'dental chews' may help to lessen the risk of accumulations of tartar on your dog's teeth.