UPDATED: SEPTEMBER 30,2018
Disclaimer: A thorough dental cleaning under anesthesia, and brushing your dog’s teeth, is considered the “gold standard” by veterinarians for maintaining your pup’s oral health. I am not claiming that there is a direct replacement for that. However, some people don’t brush their dog’s teeth, or choose not to put their dogs under anesthesia (for health or personal reasons), so I wanted to share my experience with alternate methods that are better than doing nothing at all. I’m a passionate dog Mom, not a veterinarian.
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I Admit I Don’t Brush My Dog’s Teeth
Yup, you read that right – I. Do. Not. Brush. My. Dog’s. Teeth.
I’ve received a lot of flack for this statement.
I’ve heard things like. “You’re lazy”, “You’re selfish”. “You obviously don’t care about your dogs” and “Your dog is going to die” (yes, seriously).
If people really knew me though, and how spoiled and well taken care of my dogs are, I don’t think they would say that. But it got me thinking… am I the only one that doesn’t brush my dog’s teeth?
That means there are a whole lot of people out there also not brushing their dog’s teeth.
It’s Not That I Don’t Care About Their Dental Health
Yeah, I know that a build up of plaque and tartar can lead do gum disease, missing teeth, and illness. The thing is that I have a hard enough time committing to brushing my own teeth every day.
Look, I love my dogs but I know myself good enough to know that it just isn’t going to happen. I’ve tried.
I bought a finger toothbrush and yummy vanilla toothpaste before to try and brush their teeth with. That lasted about once.
Both dogs absolutely hated it. I didn’t enjoy it much either and I didn’t have the time or patience to “get them used to it”.
I bought sprays and gels with “active enzymes” but the struggle with prying open strong Doxie jaws while trying to shoot the stuff into their mouth always resulted with more goop on me than in them. Think Something About Mary crossed with The Exorcist. (You know my dramatization isn’t too far off if you have a Dachshund)
I do pay attention to their teeth though. I get how important a pet’s dental health is.
Since I think doing something is better than nothing, and I want to encourage others to take that first step along with me, I’m sharing the two things I do to try and keep my dog’s teeth clean and gums healthy.
Our Home Routine for Cleaner Teeth
After some research and testing, I found a little at-home teeth cleaning routine that works for us.
The first step in the routine is to sprinkle Plaque Off on Chester and Gretel’s food daily.
This softens the plaque on their teeth so that it scrapes off easier when they chew on things. I am not sure how it works because the label says it’s just kelp flakes but it does.
While Plaque Off softens the tartar, I find it doesn’t remove it (although I’ve heard some people claim that it did for their dog).
To actually remove the plaque, I need to give my dogs something abrasive to chew on every day.
I tried giving them raw, meaty bones. I’d heard people rave about them – that chewing on the bones every day keep their dog’s teeth sparkly white.
That didn’t work for us though.
I tried both chicken and turkey necks but Gretel literally tried to gulp them down whole like a snake.
I tried rib bones but Chester and Gretel bit off whole chunks and swallowed them.
I tried chicken feet and chicken drumsticks but I felt the calories in them were too high for 10-lb dogs.
I tried giving them antlers with limited success.
Chester and Gretel had zero interest in chewing on plain ol’ antlers so I soaked them at night in low-sodium chicken broth. That softened them a little and made them tastier.
Then I heard stories about antlers fracturing teeth and splintering, causing a major gum injury, so I moved on to something else.
I went back to giving them a bully stick to chew on for a few minutes every day. I know they like the taste and, as long as they are supervised, I feel they are safe chewing on them.
Occasionally, for an extra treat and health boost, I dip the end in organic coconut oil. Coconut oil can help keep their gums and teeth healthy because it has natural anti-bacterial properties (some DIY dog toothpaste recipes use coconut oil as a base).
I may try raw, meaty bones again someday if I can find something that works for us but, for now, I’m staying with the bully sticks.
Yes, calories are still an issue with the bully stick but my dogs don’t eat much of it in the 10 minutes I let them chew on it.
What We Get Done Professionally: Anesthesia-Free Dog Teeth Cleaning
If my dog needed to have serious dental work done, I would pay to have them cleaned under anesthesia.
However, the thought of putting my 15-year old senior dog, Chester, under anesthesia when the vet did not say it was medically necessary was a little unnerving.
I had heard about “anesthesia-free” teeth cleaning through a friend.
I researched it and found it did a good job cleaning a dog’s teeth but that it’s not as thorough as a deep cleaning with anesthesia.
Since I was just going for “mostly clean” (because, remember, I’m using this method in the place of brushing, which also only gets a dog’s teeth “mostly clean”), that was ok with me.
I also heard it was cheaper than cleaning under anesthesia – only $165 – BUT it is recommended that it be done twice a year… so it’s not that much cheaper, if at all.
Read: How Much Does It Cost to Get’s Your Dog’s Teeth Cleaned? (read the comments for reports from around the country)
Note: Anesthesia-free teeth cleaning is very controversial. To understand the arguments, and my thoughts on them, read my article Anesthesia-Free Teeth Cleaning is Not Evil.
I thought I would give anesthesia-free teeth cleaning a shot since Chester had no existing tooth or gum problems.
He was also a good candidate because he is a calm guy that loves people – even if they are poking him with sharp objects – so the procedure could likely be done while he was awake.
All the Best Pet Care in Seattle has a doggy dentist technician, who is overseen by a veterinarian, that visits once a month and performs this anesthesia-free dental cleaning so I made an appointment.
The vet said Chester did very well (I wasn’t allowed in the room with him because he might keep looking at me and not relax).
When he came out of the back room he was all waggy tail and had sparkling white teeth.
I was happy with the results. Here is the before and after so you can be the judge (pictures unedited except for the watermark).
At first, I was hesitant to get Gretel’s teeth cleaned this way.
Her teeth are worse than Chester’s though so she needed some kind of cleaning. She is just so anxious I was afraid she would get super, super stressed.
I told him about her anxiety and he still thought he could do it. He said if she got too stressed, he would just stop.
After giving her some CBD to help calm her down, we gave it a try and, to my amazement, the vet said she was calmer than happy-go-lucky Chester.
How Are Their Teeth Doing?
Chester and Gretel had a checkup of their teeth last year at the vet.
The vet was amazed at how clean Chester’s teeth were and that they looked healthy. That’s pretty amazing for a small dog (which are known for having teeth issues) at 15! I chalk it up to all of the sock and underwear dental floss he uses 🙂
Gretel’s teeth have always been a little worse than Chester’s even though she is younger than him. Still though, I ask my vet every time we go in if I should have her teeth professionally cleaned and she said they weren’t at the point of needing it.
Are their teeth gleaming and white? No. However, I’m convinced that the home routine, and occasional anesthesia-free cleaning, is better than doing nothing.
In fact, I might argue that it’s just as – or almost as good as – brushing your dog’s teeth.
What do you do for your dog’s dental health?