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Your Dog's Dental Health

Updated on December 20, 2012
I had to coax my dog to show off her healthy, shiny white teeth
I had to coax my dog to show off her healthy, shiny white teeth

Many dog owners don't realize that dogs need dental care just as much as people do! It's a very common myth that it's normal for a dog to have reeking breath. Sure their breath won't exactly be minty fresh, but excessive stink isn't normal. Contrary to popular belief, bad breath, swollen or red gums, and tooth decay are not normal occurrences throughout a dog's life. In fact, they can and should be prevented. While it's best to begin a dental care routine early in your dog's life, it's never too late to start. Some damage to gums and teeth can be reversed by regular cleaning, and the problems that can't be reversed can be maintained and prevented from progressing and spreading.

Dog's Dental Health Problems

A number of problems can arise if your dog's teeth and gums aren't cared for.

  • Halitosis is just a fancy word for bad breath. This is often the first stage of dental problems. It's caused when bits of food get stuck between your dog's teeth, and starts accumulating bacteria. It's the bacteria that's causing the smell. Simply brushing your dog's teeth will eliminate the problem right away. If you ignore it, though, it will only get worse as more food builds up in your dog's mouth.
  • Gingivitis occurs when plaque and tartar build up along the gum line. This encourages the growth of bacteria, and if left untreated, can lead to serious infection. If your dog has red, swollen, or bleeding gums, he may have gingivitis. But don't worry, gingivitis can be reversed if you get your dog regular dental treatments right away. If it's left untreated, though, it can quickly lead to periodontal disease.
  • Periodontal Disease is the next step up from gingivitis, when the area between the teeth and gums becomes seriously infected. This is a serious condition, and needs to be treated right away! The infection can spread to other parts of your dog's body through the blood stream, and it can make him very sick. This condition is also likely very painful for your dog. His gums will be very swollen and sensitive. It may be hard for him to chew his food, and his teeth may even fall out. Periodontal disease warrants a trip to the vet, pronto!

These are just a few of the issues that commonly arise from a lack of dental hygiene in dogs. Other problems may come up, like a presence of cysts or tumors in the mouth. Preventing these conditions is very important to your dog's health. There are very simple steps you can take to make sure your dog's teeth stay clean and healthy.

Give Your Dog Something to Chew On

That's right, toss the little critter a bone. Dogs have a natural instinct to chew, and that's not by accident. Chewing helps to scrape built up plaque and tarter off the teeth. It also helps to strengthen teeth and gums. Not just any chew toys are appropriate, though. Avoid giving your dog real bones, because they can damage his teeth and cause severe intestinal damage if swallowed. Sticks or tree branches should also be avoided. I know dogs sometimes find these in the yard and like to help themselves to a chew, but splintered wood can cause injury to your dog's gums (and stomach, if swallowed). I find that toys made from rawhide are best. But whatever you choose to give your dog, make sure it's non-toxic, and won't do any damage to his teeth or gums. Your veterinarian will have some specific suggestions for you if you're not sure what's safe.

There is also a large selection of dental treats available. These are meant specifically to help clean the plaque buildup off your dog's teeth. Some are even made with ingredients that will instantly freshen your dog's breath.

Stick With Dry Food

Wet food is OK once in a while, but a diet that is mostly or completely made up of wet food is not a good idea. Wet food doesn't require your dog to use his teeth, which will promote buildup of food on the teeth. Wet food is also much more likely to get lodged in between the teeth. Dry food, on the other hand, must be chewed. The hard pieces scrape against the dog's teeth while being chewed up, and they help scrape off soft plaque and tartar buildup. Dry food is also widely believed to be easier on your dog's stomach. But again, your vet can offer professional guidance if you're not sure.

If you want to take your dog's dry food a step further, there are products on the market that are specifically designed with your dog's dental health in mind, such as Hill's Prescription Diet dog food.

Teeth are free of plaque buildup, and gums are not red or swollen.
Teeth are free of plaque buildup, and gums are not red or swollen.

Brush Your Dog's Teeth

I know this one probably seems a little over the top to some people, but it's really important. All of the methods that have been mentioned so far are very helpful, but they're nothing compared to regular brushing. Doing all of those and leaving brushing out is just like suggesting you chew gum and eat hard foods in place of brushing your teeth. That doesn't sound so good, does it?

Brush kits are available at any pet store (and should be at the vet, too). They come with a toothbrush (should be much softer than those meant for humans) and a tube of toothpaste. Some may also come with a brush that you can fit over your finger, as some dog owners find this easier. It's very important that you use toothpaste that is specially made for dogs. Human toothpaste can make your dog very sick, and there's no way you'll be getting him to rinse and spit!

Your vet should be able to give you a face-to-face demonstration on how to brush your dog's teeth, as well as suggestions on how often you should be brushing.

Petrodex Dental Kit For Dogs Beef Flavor
Petrodex Dental Kit For Dogs Beef Flavor
This brush kit comes with a double-sided brush, an alternate brush that fits over your finger, and flavored toothpaste.

Regular Vet Visits

Your veterinarian is the best resource available to you when it comes to your dog's dental health, so make sure you use him! He will answer any questions you may have, and will point you toward the right products to use. Taking your dog in for regular cleanings is also strongly recommended. At the very least, ask the veterinarian to have a quick look at your dog's teeth during a regular checkup. He can diagnose any problems your dog may have, and give you specific information on how to treat it.

Many people may avoid taking their dogs to the vet for dental reasons unless there's an obvious problem. They feel it's not worth the expense for regular checkups and cleanings if there is no indication that there's something wrong. However, the whole point of these regular vet visits is prevention. I guarantee that the cost of your dog's regular checkups will seem like nothing in comparison to the cost of dental surgery to treat a major problem that has developed due to a lack of regular care! It will be well worth it in the long run.


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