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Why Do I Brush Only the Outsides of My Dog’s Teeth?

April 14, 2013

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9-Year-Old Pomeranian Demonstrates Tartar Patterns

Tartar on the Buccal Side

9-year-old cream Pomeranian needs tooth surgery


Harold shivered in his mom’s arms. The nine-year-old tan Pomeranian looked like he wanted to run back to the car. The tip of his tail started to wag with uncertainty as Doc Truli explained how to brush his teeth.

“You brush the outsides, facing the lips, not the insides facing the tongue” said the Doc.

Strictly speaking, dogs do not have lips. The sides of the teeth facing the outside of the mouth are called the buccal (pronounced like ‘buckle’) sides of the teeth. The insides facing the tongue and called the lingual sides. Most often, clients tell Doc Truli they cannot brush their dogs’ teeth because their dogs will not open up.

Where Does Your Tartar Grow?

Rarely does tartar grow on the lingual side of the teeth:

2 molars, 1 shows tartar on the lip side, one shows shiny enamel in the tongue side

Filthy dog teeth

You can see in this picture of diseased teeth removed from Harold’s mouth that the one side shows thick, brown crud and the other side of the teeth looks mostly pearly white. Harold shows us a good example of how the tartar grows on the buccal side of the teeth. The tartar grows so well that the resulting periodontal disease loosens the teeth, even though the inner, lingual side of the teeth is still clean.

So, once your dog’s teeth are clean and comfortable, or, if your dog is under 2 years old and still has fairly good-looking teeth, you can start gently brushing with a soft toothbrush of a comfortable size and shape for you and your dog and doggy toothpaste that is not poisonous.

If your dog already has loose teeth or thick tartar or red, sore gum lines, please see your veterinarian for care. Brushing when there is periodontal disease is painful and can cause more oral pathology.

Also, do not use toothpaste made for human babies and children, even if it is ‘all natural’ or ‘organic’ because almost all of then contain the sweetener xylitol. Xylitol is considered safe for humans, but it is poison to dogs. The amount of Xylitol in one stick of sugar-free gum can kill a small dog.

After Harold’s surgery, his gums healed in 7 days. He was back to eating is kibble and he was playing with a ball for the first time in years.

Read more about Small Dog Dental Problems 

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