11 Steps to Doggy Dental Hygiene

Dental care for your dog is about more than just its teeth; dental care is also important for overall good health.


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Like us, our pets often suffer from dental problems. In fact, it's been estimated that 80 percent of dogs over the age of 4 suffer from periodontal disease. That's why it's important to watch for signs of dental disease in your pet and to begin a program of dental hygiene while your dog is young. Dental disease can also lead to serious heart, lung, and kidney disease down the line.

4 Symptoms of Dental Disease in Dogs

  1. Bad breath. Contrary to popular belief, dogs should not have bad breath. If your pet has a strong case of halitosis, it is probably suffering from tooth or gum problems. Don't ignore your dog's breath—get your dog to a veterinarian for an exam as soon as possible.
  2. Discolored gums. Check your dog's teeth every month or so. Most dogs will let you look at their teeth if you lift their lips gently and reward them for letting you take a peek. It also helps to put your dog in a "sit, stay" position to prevent your dog from wiggling out of your grip. Pay special attention to any plaque or tartar in the area where each tooth connects to the gum. Also, watch for any teeth that look yellow or brown or gums that are red and inflamed.
  3. Missing teeth. Missing teeth are another sign your pooch might have periodontal disease. Only puppies, losing their baby teeth when several months old, should have open spots in the gum line.
  4. Chewing problems. If you dog has trouble chewing, it can be another sign of dental problems. This is especially common in older pets, so if your dog is taking longer to eat dinner, do a quick dental exam and/or get your dog to the veterinarian for an exam.

7 Steps to Prevent Dental Disease in Dogs

  1. Start early. Train your puppy to sit for a dental exam. Some puppies don't like anyone messing around with their mouth, so go slowly and reward and praise your canine every time it lets you check its canines. Repeat the process frequently so dental checks become a part of your pooch's routine.
  2. Brush several times a week. Brushing your dog's teeth should become a regular part of the schedule. Start by using a piece of terry cloth or gauze wrapped around your finger, and then rub over the dog's teeth with dog toothpaste.
  3. Use dog-appropriate dental supplies. As your dog becomes accustomed to you poking around its gumline, move up to a toothbrush and toothpaste designed especially for dogs. Never use human toothpaste. Most pet stores carry doggy toothbrushes and toothpaste, but your veterinarian should also be able to provide them.
  4. Brush gently. The easiest way to clean your dog's teeth is by spreading your hand over the top of its muzzle and gently lifting your dog's top lips up so you can brush its teeth with your free hand. For lower teeth, use the same method, but from below the muzzle. Always brush in a small circular pattern at a 45-degree angle to each tooth. Pay special attention to the area where the gum and teeth meet.
  5. Be calm. Never struggle with your pet. If it starts to panic, stop immediately. Don't turn dental care into a contact sport. Every time your dog allows you to touch or brush its teeth, praise it and give a treat when the job is done. Because your pet's tongue keeps the insides of his teeth clean, you only need to work on the exposed surfaces you can see. There's no need to brush the inside of the teeth.
  6. Feed dry food. Feeding dry food keeps your dog's teeth cleaner because kibble is abrasive and works to remove tartar. If you feed your dog canned food, offer your pup dry biscuits as a treat. Or, try commercially prepared bones that are designed to keep a dog's teeth clean. Never use real bones, which can splinter or crack a tooth as the dog gnaws on it.
  7. Don't get bitten. If you own a dog that just won't let you touch its mouth, you probably need to have your veterinarian take a look and come up with a plan of action. Your pup might need to be sedated if it's aggressively avoiding your good intentions.
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