Did you know that dental disease is the most common health problem in dogs? Introducing your puppy to having their teeth cleaned, then keeping up the habit for life, is the number one way to help reduce their risk of painful tooth problems.
All about puppy teeth
Like humans, dogs have deciduous (baby) teeth. These teeth start to appear (erupt) when your pup is about a month old and are then lost and replaced by permanent (adult) teeth from 3.5 months old. The deciduous teeth should all be lost and replaced by permanent teeth by the time your puppy is about seven months old.
The root of the deciduous tooth is absorbed by the body, so only the crown (the visible part of the tooth) falls out. It’s likely you won’t see this happen as the deciduous teeth are quite small, and often the puppy will just swallow the crown. Dogs have 28 deciduous teeth and 42 permanent teeth (that’s ten more permanent teeth than us!).
Why should I brush my puppy’s teeth if they fall out anyway?
Whilst your puppy’s baby teeth will be replaced by permanent teeth, it’s still really important to brush them. Firstly, it helps get your puppy used to having their teeth brushed. It’s much easier to introduce tooth brushing to a puppy than to an older dog.
Building good habits
Brushing your dog’s teeth daily for the rest of their life will go a long way towards reducing their risk of dental disease. The same as in people, plaque and bacteria build up on your dog’s teeth and eventually result in painful wobbly teeth and sore gums.
Imagine if you didn’t brush your teeth. It wouldn’t take long for them to get pretty horrid, and it’s the same with our canine friends. Brushing also helps keep bad breath at bay.
Comfortable having teeth checked by others
Another important reason to brush your puppy’s teeth is that it gets them used to having their mouth handled and examined. Your vet will want to examine your pet’s mouth at every visit. It certainly makes our job much easier if your dog is used to having its mouth touched.
It’s also important for your vet to be able to check that your puppy’s deciduous teeth are falling out normally. Ensuring they’re not staying put when the permanent teeth start to appear (a condition called persistent deciduous teeth).
Persistent deciduous teeth can result in the permanent teeth not coming in at the right angle. In dental disease, it’s impossible to brush the tiny space between the cramped baby and adult tooth. Your vet will recommend the removal of any deciduous teeth that aren’t falling out when they should. Your vet can also get a good idea of your dog’s general health by examining their mouth; for example, by checking the colour of the gums.
Can I use human toothpaste?
It’s important to use toothpaste specially formulated for dogs. Human toothpaste contains fluoride. Not a problem for us as we spit our toothpaste out, but we can’t teach our dogs to rinse and spit! Dog toothpastes also won’t froth and foam like ours do. Dog toothpastes are often flavoured, for example with chicken, to make the tooth brushing experience more enjoyable for them.
How do I start brushing my puppy’s teeth?
A good place to start is to get your puppy used to having their head and mouth touched as part of everyday play. Then try rubbing your finger or a soft cloth across the outside of their teeth (the surface facing the cheeks). After a few days, you can introduce your pup to the flavour of the toothpaste. The first step might be to allow them to lick it from your finger. When they’re happy with this, try rubbing a little toothpaste across their teeth with your finger or a finger toothbrush.
Once they’re used to this you can add a dog toothbrush with a small smear of toothpaste. There are lots of different dog toothbrushes on the market, you can choose what you feel will be easiest for you and your dog. You don’t need to ask your dog to ‘open wide’ – just lift up your puppy’s lips and brush the tooth in circular motions, like we do on our own teeth. Some dog’s find brushing the teeth near the front of the mouth can be quite tickly, so you may want to try brushing those further back first!
Take things slowly. If your puppy seems uncomfortable or upset at any point, don’t worry. Give them a break and try again a few days later. Like all new things it can take a while for your pup to get used to having their teeth brushed. Your veterinary practice will be more than happy to give you a demonstration and some top tips in person if you would like (Covid-permitting).
The PDSA have a very helpful video.
Remember, it’s important to wash your hands after handling your dog’s mouth or brushing their teeth. Good luck, and happy brushing!