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Dental Care for Your Dog

Preventing and Addressing Dental Disease

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Dog Teeth and Bite - Close Up Picture of Dog Teeth and Bite

Inspecting a dog's teeth and bite

Photo © Stephen Chernin / Getty Images
Dogs need dental care, too! Unfortunately, dental hygiene for dogs is sometimes overlooked. Many people seem to just expect dogs to have bad breath, and few people brush their dogs’ teeth frequently enough. Dental hygiene is just as important to your dog’s overall health as things like nutrition, proper exercise and routine grooming. Help keep your dog healthy – pay attention to those pearly whites!

Monitoring Your Dog’s Dental Health

Catching teeth problems early will help avoid severe dental disease. The simplest way to keep track of your dog’s teeth is to look at them on a regular basis and be aware of signs that may indicate a problem. To inspect your dog’s teeth, lift the lips all around the mouth, looking at the front and back teeth as closely as possible. Be gentle and use caution so you do not accidentally get nipped! Your veterinarian will also take a look at your dog’s teeth during routine examinations, so make sure you keep up with these – visit your vet every 6-12 months for wellness check-ups. Contact your vet if any problems arise. Watch for the following signs:
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Reluctance to chew / crying out when chewing
  • Increased salivation
  • Red and/or puffy gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Tartar / Calculus (hard coating on teeth that is usually brown or yellow; results from plaque build-up)
  • Missing and/or loose teeth
  • Anything else about the mouth that appears unusual

The Dangers of Dental Disease

Plaque builds up on the teeth and turns into tartar, or calculus. These areas grow bacteria and eat away at the teeth and gums. Halitosis, periodontal disease, oral pain and tooth loss can occur. However, the bacteria not only cause disease in the mouth – they can also affect other parts of the body, like the heart and kidneys. The most important thing to do is address dental disease as soon as it is detected, no matter how minor. Better yet, work hard to prevent it!

Preventing Dental Disease in Dogs

There are several things you can do to help keep your dog’s teeth in good shape. Start a dental care routine as early as possible in your dog’s life so he get used to the feeling of having his teeth brushed and inspected. Puppies have 28 deciduous teeth that typically fall out by about six months of age. By this time, your dog should be getting his teeth brushed regularly. If you decide to brush your dog’s teeth, here are some important tips to keep in mind:
  1. NEVER brush your dog’s teeth with human toothpaste – it can make your dog sick! Use special enzymatic toothpaste made especially for dogs. The same goes for oral rinses.
  2. Plaque begins to turn into tartar / calculus within 24-48 hours, so daily brushing is recommended. Work your dog’s tooth brushing into your own routine – consider brushing his teeth around the same time you do yours so it will be easier to remember.
  3. Use a “finger brush” or special long toothbrush designed for use on dogs. When starting out with brushings, the finger brush can help ease your dog into it, as these do not feel as awkward as hard brushes.
  4. Before you begin, ask your veterinarian to show you some techniques to make tooth brushing easier on you and your dog.
If you are not able to brush your dog’s teeth, there are other options. Consider using oral rinses made especially for dogs. You can also purchase special dental treats. Avoid real bones – not only can they lead to gastrointestinal upset, they may also cause tooth fractures.

Most of all: make sure you keep up with vet exams. From time to time, a professional dental cleaning may be recommended. This requires general anesthesia. During the procedure, your dog’s teeth and gums will be examined closely for problems. The teeth will then be scaled and polished. If dental problems are noted, tooth extractions could become necessary. Alternatively, you may be referred to a veterinary dentist for specialty procedures. Some dogs need dental cleanings one or more times per year, while others can go longer. Be certain to follow your vet’s recommendations. And remember, what you do at home can really make all the difference.

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