Don’t Fear the Dentist! Doggy Dental Care for Dummies

One of the most endearing dog characteristics is a big, wide smile. But if your dog has bad dental hygiene, his mouth may be the last feature anyone wants to see (or smell).

Not only can bad oral care be disgusting and unsightly, but it can also escalate into serious health issues if not addressed properly. According to a publication by the Banfield Pet Hospital in the Periodontal Literature Review, estimates suggest that 85 percent of canines suffer from periodontal disease by age four. Not to worry though; with simple regular maintenance, your pooch can ditch the doggy breath and keep a dazzling smile throughout the years.

Periodontal Disease: Signs and Symptoms
The first sign of periodontal disease is the infamous “doggy breath” we have all gotten a whiff of at one time or another. If bad breath in your dog is a recurring issue, it may be time to consult a veterinarian. Disease typically starts with a bacterial invasion which takes the form of plaque on the surface of the teeth. Plaque in its early stages can easily be scraped off when your dog eats hard food or chews on a toy. If the plaque remains, however, it may accumulate into calcified tartar and eventually lead to gingivitis, bleeding and swelling of the gums. The bacteria can also infiltrate the dog’s bloodstream and cause disease to the lungs, kidneys and heart. Professional intervention will be needed at this point to prevent the plaque from causing a full-blown infection which can cause tooth deterioration, loss and severe discomfort for your dog. Now that doesn’t sound like so much fun for Fido, does it?

Veterinary Care
Aside from regular dental checkups, professional teeth cleaning that requires anesthesia should be done about once a year to remove plaque buildup. It’s a good idea to do your research before choosing a veterinary dentist, as well as bring your dog with you on your consultations to get both of you more comfortable for future visits. Your vet may perform a dental X-ray on your dog to check overall dental health and for abnormalities that may not be present in a general checkup. Before cleaning, the vet will administer a pre-anesthetic exam to make sure your dog is healthy enough to undergo anesthesia. Once the safety of the procedure is confirmed and anesthesia is underway, your dog’s vital signs such as respiration, body temperature and heart rate while be monitored throughout the process. Then, much like the cleaning that takes place at your own dental visits, the vet will scale and polish the teeth of your dog, scraping off plaque and smoothing out rough areas. The vet may apply fluoride as a protective barrier to strengthen the teeth until the next visit.

Home Care
In addition to regular dental checkups, daily maintenance of your dog’s teeth at home is highly recommended. That’s right, this means brushing your dog’s teeth ideally once a day but starting with at least once a week if your dog is especially fussy with a prodding toothbrush in his mouth. You may use either a regular human toothbrush or a doggy toothbrush from a pet store, which is more angled to fit the mouth of your dog. Canine toothpaste must be used over the human kind, however, since the latter has harmful abrasives and is not safe for your dog to swallow. Teeth wipes can also be used for quick dental touch-ups.

Once you’ve got all your supplies together, it’s time to start brushing! Be patient—your dog might not be very receptive of brushing at first, and it may take some time for him to get used to the process. Start with getting your dog comfortable with you handling his muzzle by topping your finger with a soft treat like peanut butter and gently introducing it into his mouth, moving along the teeth as well. Once your dog appears comfortable with you touching his mouth and teeth, place a small amount of toothpaste onto the toothbrush, lift his lips up, and brush in circular motions along the gum line. The more you practice with your dog, the farther back you will be able to go in his mouth for a more thorough clean. Always end the session with a treat and praise to provide positive reinforcement for your pup.

It is also useful to give your dog a flexible chew toy or rawhide bone that he will enjoy chewing while keeping his mouth healthy and clean. Other products on the market can easily help rid your pooch of “doggy breath” caused by lack of dental upkeep.

Dental hygiene can be a daunting subject for both people and their dogs, but doing a little maintenance every day will ensure that your dog stays healthy and sound.