Cleaning Your Dog’s Teeth

February is National Pet Dental Health Month, a time when attention is drawn to a problem with real bite: dental disease. According to Banfield Pet Hospital’s State of Pet Health Report, more than 90 percent of dogs over the age of three suffer from dental disease, an issue that can not only lessen their quality of life but can actually shorten it. Chronic diseases of the heart, kidneys and liver, and more have been tied to dental disease.

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But, just as with our own dental health, it’s easy to make your dog’s dental health a part of your daily routine.

First, talk with your veterinarian and schedule a dental checkup. Your vet will look not only for signs of dental disease that include red and swollen gums and cracked or missing teeth. You’ll be able to see some issues on your own like the tartar that builds along the gum line – or changes in your dog’s eating patterns that can be caused by a sore tooth. And we all know another sign that can be a sure indicator of dog dental problems: that infamous dog breath.

If your dog needs a dental cleaning, all the tartar will be scraped away, just as at our own dental cleanings. At that point, it’s your turn to take make sure that the tartar doesn’t return.

Daily brushing (and, if not daily, at least a few times a week) can help keep those pearly whites shining. Canine toothbrushes are specially designed to be angled for your dog’s teeth. Many dog toothbrushes feature multiple heads to fit around each tooth so you can brush hard to reach areas.

If you don’t think your dog will accept a traditionally shaped toothbrush, finger brushes are another option. Like a rubber thimble, this brush slips over your finger and is more freely accepted by some dogs. It has a head much like a traditional toothbrush on the fingertip portion of the brush but is soft and flexible.

Regardless of the type of toothbrush you use, be sure to use it in conjunction with specially formulated canine toothpaste. Dogs should never have human toothpaste, which contains fluoride, which is toxic to dogs. Instead, select special dog toothpaste, which not only is safe for dogs but appeals to them with special flavors like chicken and beef.

Although brushing is definitely the best way to keep your dog’s smile sparkling, it’s not the only way. You’ll find many dental treats available on the market. Look for those that have been tested and approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) and display a seal of approval indicating that the treat reduces plaque or tartar by at least 10 percent (or 20 percent if it’s a chemical anti-plaque agent).

Good dental health helps keep your dog healthy and happy – and that is definitely something to smile about!

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta is a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine Dog News. She's also the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com Award winner for 2013. In addition, she's written Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Healthy and Happy.

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