How to Care for Your Dog's Teeth

When pet parents think of their dog’s health, they typically think of proper nutrition, vaccinations, and regular vet checkups. But what often goes unnoticed is oral health, because bad breath is one of the only early signs of a greater health problem. In reality, plaque that harbors bacteria can lead to serious health issues. Follow these guidelines to keep your dog’s dental health in check:

#1: Implement a Dental Care Routine

Because anesthesia (required for a professional teeth cleaning) is best avoided whenever possible, proactive dental care is a must for your dog. With their mouths and lips lying so close to their teeth, plaque and tartar accumulates extremely quickly without regular brushing. Tooth loss is very common in dogs as young as four years old when brushing is neglected.

#2: Prevent Plaque Buildup

Providing your dog with other solutions to combine with regular brushing, such as chew toys that help scrape teeth clean or liquids that can be added to his water or sprayed on his teeth, can further prevent plaque buildup. Delicious dental treats can help improve your dog’s dental health as well.

You may find it helpful to purchase a tooth scaler. This inexpensive tool can help you avoid having to schedule a professional cleaning, but don’t rely on it too heavily, because scaling without polishing can scratch the enamel surface. If you find yourself scraping your dog’s teeth on a regular basis, this is a sign that you should be using his toothbrush more often.

#3: Know the Early Signs of Disease

Periodontal disease begins with a condition called gingivitis. The most obvious sign of this is bad breath. At first, your dog may not feel any discomfort, but soon the redness and swelling that characterize the illness become apparent, making it difficult for him to chew bones and even eat the crunchy foods that help keep plaque and tartar from forming on his teeth.

#4: Know When to Consult a Professional

Once periodontal disease sets in, options are limited. A professional cleaning at the vet can reverse the condition in the earliest stages when consistent dental hygiene is regularly performed at home, but extraction is usually necessary once a tooth has begun to decay.

Tammy Gagne is a freelance writer who specializes in the health and behavior of companion animals. A two-time Dog Writers Association of America writing competition nominee, she has written more than pet care books for adults and children. She lives in New England with her husband, son, and myriad furry and feathered creatures.

Wayne Hunthausen, DVM, consulting veterinary editor and pet behavior consultant, is the Director of Animal Behavior Consultations in the Kansas City area and currently serves on the Practitioner Board for Veterinary Medicine and the Advisory Board for Veterinary Forum.

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