It's often been said that a dog's mouth is cleaner than a human's. That's never been proven, but the fact remains that dogs put their mouths places humans would never dare to (or be able to, for that matter). Dogs don't think twice about sifting through garbage, digging in the yard and licking themselves wherever they can reach. They also use their mouths to carry toys as well as dirty "treasures" from the yard. With their mouths working overtime, good dental care for dogs should be a priority for any dog owner.
A dog's teeth can be a good indication of overall health. But as important as good dental hygiene is for dogs, many dog owners overlook it. Just like in humans, it's important to practice routine oral maintenance on your dog. Not only can it help its teeth stay healthy now, but it can also protect against more serious issues later.
If bacteria are allowed to grow in a dog's mouth, plaque can accumulate on the teeth. If it's not addressed, it can escalate to more serious concerns. Since a dog's mouth is used to play and eat, among other things, it's important to keep it in top shape. The best way to do this is through maintenance and prevention.
Believe it or not, most dogs three years of age and older have some form of gum disease. If a dog's teeth are neglected, plaque can form, setting the stage for advanced oral diseases. Plaque can bind with minerals in a dog's saliva and create tartar, which attaches to the teeth and can cause irritation to the gums, or gingivitis. Left untreated, tartar can get under the gum line and dissolve the bones that hold the teeth in place, causing the teeth to become loose and possibly fall out. Periodontal disease, as it's called, is treatable, but once your dog's teeth fall out, there's little to be done. The best line of defense is regular brushing and check-ups.
Home care is important, but it's also critical to have your dog's teeth examined regularly by a professional. A simple visual exam can be done in an office visit, but more comprehensive care, such as x-rays and tartar removal, has to be done while the dog is under sedation. It's safer for both the dog and the medical staff, and it gives the vet an opportunity to do a more thorough exam. Some vets even specialize in dental care for dogs, so it's worthwhile to investigate your options.
It may take time before your dog is comfortable having its teeth cleaned. If you use a toothbrush, be sure to get your pet familiar with it, so he's more likely to allow you to use it. A toothbrush allows you to reach teeth more effectively, but a finger brush may be easier to maneuver. Just be sure it fits well, so it won't fall off in your dog's mouth. Find a toothpaste formulated for dogs. Human toothpaste is made to be spit out, while a dog will swallow it, so don't use human products, just to be on the safe side. Many dog toothpastes have added flavors that are attractive to dogs, such as beef, chicken or vanilla.
While brushing your dog's teeth, take this opportunity to examine its mouth for any signs of disease. Bad breath (that which is out of the ordinary for your dog), yellowing or crust at the gum line, swelling, or pain when you touch your dog's gums should be noted. These could be signs of infection and should be addressed immediately. Not doing so could result in tooth loss for your dog.
Another important consideration for healthy teeth is your dog's toys. Excessive chewing on hard surfaces can lead to a dog's teeth being damaged. If this occurs, bacteria can get into the tooth and cause infection. Bones can splinter and lodge between teeth, rocks can break teeth and toys can cause bleeding gums if a dog chews too aggressively. Be sure to monitor your dog during play time, and only give it toys that are appropriate for your pet's size and activity level.
Your dog's food and treats can be a good tool for treating plaque. Dry food can help attack plaque, while there are dog treats on the market that are especially formulated to address the issue of plaque and oral care.
Dental care for dogs consists of relatively simple maintenance. Following these tips can keep your dog healthy for a lifetime.