Pet Bad breathe isn’t the only thing that improves with proper oral care.
By Lisa King
The condition of your dog’s teeth and gums affects not only whether his breath is stinky or not; poor dental health can influence his quality of life and even his life expectancy. Although cavities are relatively rare in dogs, they can suffer from plaque and tartar buildup, gingivitis and periodontal disease just like people. These in turn can cause painful gums, loose teeth and bone loss.
Periodontal disease can be very serious; bacteria and toxins from diseased gums can enter the dog’s blood stream and be carried to the organs. The brain, heart, liver and kidneys are the most likely organs to be affected. These toxins and bacteria can cause inflammation and infections in the organs, leading to permanent organ damage or even death.
It’s your responsibility as a dog owner to keep your pet healthy by caring for his teeth to prevent these painful and dangerous conditions. Ideally, this means brushing them every day.
This might sound like a tall order if your dog is not used to it. The trick is to get him accustomed to brushing. If he’s a puppy it will be easier, but an older dog can also be taught to tolerate tooth-brushing. Start by massaging the outside of his mouth for 30 seconds or so a couple of times a day. When he’s used to this, try massaging his teeth and gums. Let him lick a little doggie toothpaste off your finger.Never use human toothpaste.
When he will accept this type of touching calmly, get him a doggie toothbrush, either one that looks like a smaller human toothbrush or one that fits over your finger. Apply toothpaste and move the brush in small circular motions, lifting up his lip as you work around his mouth. If he gets impatient, you can skip cleaning the inside surface—most of the tartar buildup is on the outside of the teeth.
Another tool in your dental arsenal is the chew toy. Hard rubber, rawhide and rope chew toys help keep your dog’s teeth clean and his jaws strong, as well as relieving stress. You can also purchase dental treats that are designed to clean tartar off a dog’s teeth and dental rinses that you can put in your dog’s water. But as with people, there’s no substitute for regular brushing.
A well-balanced dry food is less likely to cause tartar buildup than wet food, and human food is worst of all when it comes to your dog’s dental health, so keep table-scrap treats to a minimum.
It is important that your veterinarian checks your dog’s teeth regularly. She will need to handle issues such as cysts under the tongue or tumors in the mouth. Between vet visits, be on the lookout for bad breath, increased drooling, loose teeth and swollen or inflamed gums (the tissue is red instead of pink). An apparent loss of appetite can be caused by painful teeth or gums. Any of these can indicate that your dog has a dental problem and should see the vet.
If you haven’t been taking care of your dog’s dental health or if he is simply an older dog, he might have developed tooth or gum disease. If so, it’s time for a professional deep cleaning. Your vet will need to anesthetize your dog so she can do a thorough job, including cleaning under the gum line. She will also X-ray your dog’s mouth to ensure the roots of his teeth are healthy. This procedure can cost hundreds of dollars, but it can make your dog pain-free and add years to his life.
The best approach to maintaining your dog’s dental health is prevention. Start as early as you can to brush his teeth and check the condition of his teeth and gums. Provide him with a good diet and plenty of chew toys and dental treats. Take him in for regular vet visits. A dog with a healthy mouth is a happier, healthier dog.
About the Author: Lisa King is a freelance writer living in Southern California. She is the former managing editor of Pet Product News International, Dogs USA, and Natural Dog magazines. Lisa is also the author of the well-received murder mystery novel “Death in a Wine Dark Sea.”