Chewing beef ears and chicken necks will absolutely help keep the points of the teeth squeaky clean and healthy, but they’re just not as effective on the sides of the teeth. Cleaning the sides of the teeth is super important as damage often occurs because tartar gets under the edges of the gums. Thank goodness for bacon flavoured toothpaste!
The younger you start brushing the easier it is (puppyhood is the ideal time). Learning at a young age that having their teeth brushed is both yummy and fun will set them (and you!) up for a life with healthy nashers, so-not-disgusting breath, and all the systemic health benefits that come with it! But, contrary to the myth, you can still teach old dogs new tricks! I started brushing Lulu’s teeth at age 7 and with baby steps, praise and encouragement she took to it beautifully. The trick is to be gentle but persistent, watch for signs of anxiety (time to give it a break) and never to scald. Pausing for cuddles and praise after brushing each section helps to make it a positive experience for everyone.
I try to brush Lulu’s teeth 3-4 times a week (sometimes it’s more like 1-2 times when things are super busy!) using Nylabone Senior Toothpaste (bacon flavour), which she adores. After thoroughly brushing all of her nashers with toothpaste I finish up with some coconut oil on the toothbrush (which she also loves) and spread it liberally around her mouth, teeth and gums. Coconut oil contains proven antimicrobial fatty acids (notably the medium-chain triglycerides lauric, caprylic and capric acids) that can help inhibit oral bacteria1 and promote healthy teeth, gums and fresh breath. I’ve tried a few different dog-specific toothbrushes over the years, but surprisingly enough her favourite (and subsequently the most effective) is a simple human Colgate toothbrush from the local pharmacy, with medium strength bristles.
Natural Alcohol-Free Dental Spray
After watching the canine dental spray market develop over the last few years, and after a lot of my own research, I have only found only one brand of dental spray that is free of chemicals and alcohol and therefore safe to use on your pet – Denta-Sure by Natural Wonder Pets. This stuff isn’t cheap, especially if you’re outside the USA and paying into shipping(!), but from my own experience I can tell you that it’s truly amazing and makes brushing exponentially more effective. Dental-Sure has a beautifully simple ingredients list: distilled water, grapefruit seed extract, grape seed extract, propolis extract and a little natural stevia to sweeten (I’ve been using stevia myself for 20 years now). Lulu loves the taste and pricks her ears up whenever she sees the bottle. The kickass ingredient is propolis (made by bees) – research has proven that it contains unique properties that stop the activity of the enzyme that causes plaque.
I first bit the international-shipping bullet and ordered some Denta-Sure from the USA after a really intense few months of working long hours, painting madly for an exhibition, resulting in a lapse in Lulu’s regular teeth cleaning regime (life happens sometimes!). After a handful of months without her regular teeth cleaning, for the first time in her life, Lulu started cultivating some pretty funky breath and visible tartar. The need for an intervention became quickly apparent (oh, the guilt!) as I didn’t want to put her through the trauma of a a professional cleaning session if I could help it. Expensive international shipping? TOTALLY WORTH IT. Denta-Sure way exceeded my expectations. After just two weeks of spraying Lulu’s mouth twice daily, with one brushing session about 1 week in, her breath was back to being utterly non-offensive and the visible gunk that had built up on her teeth had noticeably diminished. After a month of spraying twice daily all the visible build up was gone and her gums returned to a happy healthy pale pink. From there on I dropped back to spraying once a day – a maintenance routine that (along with as-regular-as-I-can-manage brushing) seems to be doing a great job of stopping new plaque from forming and keeping Lulu’s mouth fresh and healthier than ever.
Where to get it: I purchase Lulu’s Denta-Sure from the manufacturers website in USA (as far as I know that’s the only place it’s available at this time): http://www.naturalwonderpets-store.com/natural-pet-dental-spray-p/dss2.htm
NB. Please do remember, if you can’t source a natural alcohol-free, chemical-free dental spray you’re better not to use one at all. The consequences of using an alcohol-based spray or one with chemical ingredients on the overall health of your dog can be far worse than the effects of plaque and tartar.