Canine Dental Health

Have you noticed that your dog has bad breath, is not eating, his teeth are covered with brown tartar or loose or missing, he has mouth ulcers, is dribbling saliva, is increasingly irritable, or is lethargic? Please be careful, these signs could mean your dog’s dental health, and his physical health, as well is at stake!

Without proper canine dental care, it is very common for dogs to have mouth diseases, including periodontitis or gingivitis. Plaque buildup hardens into tartar. Tartar lifts the gum margin (basically enlarges the area between the teeth and gums) which creates a pocket for bacteria (gingivitis). Saliva can’t get past the tartar to flush the pocket, so the infection is free to invade deep into gums, causing ulcers and bone and tooth loss (periodontitis). This infection, if unchecked, will enter the bloodstream.

Endodontic disease, gingivitis and periodontitis can all be avoided by proper canine dental hygiene.

Regular Dentist Visits

As a baseline guide, you should take your dog to a veterinary dentist at least once a year. At the dentist, your dog will be anesthetized. Then, a thorough exam will be performed to determine if any teeth need to be pulled or repaired. Some canine dentists will perform x-rays of the teeth to find any cracks or diseased teeth. After this, a dental cleaning will be performed.

Your dog’s teeth will be scaled using both hand instruments and ultrasonic scaling equipment to remove the tartar above and below the gum line. Finally, his teeth will be polished, which will make them smooth and help prevent plaque from adhering to them.

Some veterinarians will even perform a fluoride rinse of the dogs mouth. But be careful because fluoride toxicity can occur.

Canine Dental Health at Home

At home, your dog’s teeth should be brushed frequently. Preferably, twice a day, every day. But no less than four times a week. Tooth brushing will reduce the bacteria in the mouth and make your dog’s breath smell sweeter.

Use canine toothpaste and a canine toothbrush. Because dogs cannot spit, their toothpaste is made to be swallowed. The best pet toothpastes contain enzymes that help control plaque. Also, canine toothpaste flavors are dog-friendly.

Don’t buy a child’s toothbrush for you dog’s use - they’re invariably too hard for dogs. The ideal dog toothbrush will have a long handle, an angled head to better fit the mouth and extra soft bristles.

At first, some older dogs may not like the feel of the toothbrush in their mouths. A canine finger brush can be used to brush the teeth. The finger brush just fits onto one’s fingertip and can let you brush the dog’s teeth without the dog knowing it. The disadvantage of getting a finger brush to clean your dog’s teeth is that its bristles are quite large and may not be able to brush under the gumline’s margin as effectively as a regular toothbrush. So, you should wean your dog off the finger brush as soon as possible because it does not clean as well as a toothbrush.

If your dog won’t let you use a finger brush on his teeth, use a piece of gauze and gently rub on and around each tooth. After a few days of using gauze, you can try again with the finger brush and finally a canine toothbrush.

Let your dog get used to the toothbrush by putting some garlic salt on it. Mix the garlic salt with water, and dip the solution in an old toothbrush. Hold the old brush, and let your pet taste and chew it. Your dog will start to realize that chewing a toothbrush tastes good and he feels comfortable brushing with it.

Checking Your Dog’s Mouth

As you are brushing his teeth, press your dog’s gums for a few seconds. Then, take you finger away. While pressing, note the color of the gums - it should be white when you are pressing. The color should quickly return to pink when you stop pressing the area. If not, gingivitis could be a problem. Talk to your veterinarian about this as soon as possible.

While cleaning your pet’s teeth, also check for any cracked or broken teeth. If you see any problem teeth, report them promptly to your veterinary dentist.

If your dog is like most, he loves to chew. Tooth fractures most often occur when dogs chew hard substances, such as bones, rocks, hard nylon, or cow hooves. The fractures, if left untreated, will hold bacteria, cause infection, pain and bad breath. This is known as endodontic disease. Contact your vet right away. Your vet can perform root canals and will prescribe antibiotics for endodontic disease, as needed.

To prevent problems, extremely hard substances should be removed from areas where your dog can reach them and use them as chew toys. Buy your dog chewing toys that are safe like rubber-made toys. You can also provide bones that are soft enough for your dog to chew.

There are certain products that help to kill the bacteria in your dog’s mouth and could actually help heal damaged gum tissues. Do not forget to ask your veterinarian on the best products in the market.

Brushing and checking your dog’s mouth daily, as well as your pet’s annual visit to the dentist, will ensure that your pet will be comfortable, healthy and happy and his breath will be sweet. And, most importantly, he’ll be around for many happy years.

Judy W is a dog lover. For further info on doggie health see

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