A dog’s mouth is one of its most important assets. Oral hygiene, however, is often one of the most over-looked factors of a Pet’s overall health. According to Animal Planet, up to 85 percent of adult dogs have periodontal disease. Just as you brush your teeth daily and see the dentist for regular checkups, dog teeth cleaning is equally important.
The Significance of Dental Health for Dogs
Puppies begin losing their baby teeth when they’re about 4 months old. By 7 months, most will already have their permanent teeth. This is the time to get serious about dental health.
When a dog’s teeth aren’t cleaned, it is susceptible to a buildup of tartar, which could lead to gingivitis. If the condition persists, the bacteria that develop could enter a dog’s bloodstream. Similarly, a lack of oral hygiene could lead to tooth aches, sore gums and serious health conditions that affect a dog’s organs.
Understanding Dog Teeth
The largest teeth in a dog’s mouth are its four canine teeth, or fangs, at the front of the mouth. These are essential for grabbing and holding onto objects, but not chewing.
The 12 small, sharp teeth at the front of a dog’s mouth are its incisors. Dogs use these for delicate chewing and biting, as well as grooming.
Dogs have 16 premolars behind the canines. These teeth have multiple roots, and dogs use them for cutting food.
For chewing and grinding food, dogs use the 10 molars at the back of the mouth.
When to Call a Vet
One of the first signs that your dog’s teeth need professional attention is bad breath. Other signs include:
- Drooling excessively
- Pawing at its mouth
- Difficulty eating dry kibble
- Discolored gums
- Bleeding from the gums
- Losing teeth
Dog Teeth Cleaning Tips
- Start young: Make daily teeth cleaning part of your pup’s training regimen so the task is simpler when it’s an adult.
- Start slow: If your dog is already an adult, it’s not too late to start cleaning its teeth. Take it slow and be patient. It’s OK if you can only brush half its teeth at first. When you’re first starting out, your dog needs to get used to you handling its mouth. A good way to do this is to rub the dog’s teeth and gums as it licks peanut butter or unflavored yogurt off your fingers.
- Clean daily: Ideally, you should brush a dog’s teeth every day. If this is difficult, aim for three or four times a week.
- Soft brushes: The best toothbrushes to use are those designed for pets, finger toothbrushes or a soft child’s toothbrush. You may also use a cotton swab or moistened gauze wrapped around your finger.
- Toothpaste: Only use toothpaste designed for pets when brushing your dog’s teeth because the ingredients in it are safe to swallow. (The ingredients in human toothpaste are harmful to dogs if swallowed.) If you don’t have dog toothpaste, simply moisten a toothbrush with water. Let your dog sample a bit of the new toothpaste before you brush its teeth.
- Work gently: To brush your dog’s teeth, lift its gums to expose the teeth. Then use gentle movements to clean the teeth and gums. Make sure you reach the upper canines and molars because these areas tend to build tartar the fastest. Dogs accustomed to teeth brushing will generally let you brush the front of their teeth, but not the inside surfaces—this is normal. Periodontal diseases are more common on the front, or outside, of the teeth.
- Reward: After you brush your dog’s teeth, reinforce the good behavior with pets, praises or a favorite activity.
- Teeth cleaning: Adult dogs should have professional teeth cleaning at a veterinarian’s office whenever they need it – this can be as often as several times per year for some pooches! The deep cleaning scrubs the places that you can’t reach with a toothbrush and helps prevent gum disease, gingivitis and other conditions.
Manual brushing is best, but a variety of products helps promote dental health for dogs. Use them in addition to brushing to help reach areas that toothbrushes miss.
- Water additives: Water additives available at a vet’s office or pet store help prevent tartar formation. It is a good idea to start using it when a dog is young or after a professional teeth cleaning. Look for additives that the Veterinary Oral Health Council approves.
- Chew toys and bones: Chewing is great for maintaining a dog’s oral health. There is debate in the veterinary community about the best type of natural bones for dogs to chew. Poultry bones are too brittle and pose choking hazards. Knucklebones are a good choice. If your dog doesn’t like natural bones, chew toys with bumpy surfaces are a good option.
- Dental treats: Some treats on the market promote dental health because of the ingredients and texture. Look for those approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council.
Healthy mouths promote happy dogs. With the right care at home and support at the vet’s, your dog will have better breath and overall health. Thanks to the advances in dental care products for dogs, it is simpler than ever to prevent dental diseases. Learn more about taking care of your dog’s teeth by consulting with a veterinarian.