Your pup’s teeth need TLC, too


Americans spend $1.8 billion annually on toothpaste, and $775 million on toothbrushes. The average person will spend 38.5 days brushing their teeth over his lifetime. The Nile Crocodile has 66 teeth and doesn’t brush, but does have a unique way of getting his teeth cleaned — the Crocodile Bird.

This small, plover-like bird hops into the open mouth of a resting croc and picks any debris from his mouth. Adult dogs have 42 teeth. They don’t have birds to provide dental care, however, and many dog owners neglect this aspect of grooming.

According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, more than 80 percent of dogs will develop gum disease by the time they’re three, with periodontal disease being the most common dental condition affecting dogs. Periodontal disease causes red, swollen, tender gums, receding gums, bleeding, pain, bad breath and tooth loss. The inflammation and infection associated with it may also damage other organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys. February is National Pet Dental Health Month and a great time to consider your dog’s teeth.

To facilitate your dog’s dental care, it is best to take a multi-pronged approach. The first step is to feed your dog a tooth-healthy diet. The best diet for dental health is an appropriately balanced raw diet that includes bones. It is critical that one does careful research before undertaking raw feeding, however, as done improperly it will harm your dog. If you choose a commercial diet, hard kibble dog food is better for your dog’s teeth than canned food.

Good chew toys are also important. The best chew toys for tooth health are things like natural bones, Nylabones and antlers. As your dog chews them, they help keep the tooth surfaces clean. Rope bones can also be great for this purpose, but be careful. If your dog chews the bone apart and ingests the individual strings, they can cause serious damage, so rope bones should be supervised toys only.

If you ate tortilla chips every day, and then used a toothpick, but didn’t brush your teeth, you’d keep your dentist busy. By the same token, diet and chew toys are not enough to ensure good dental health for your dog. There is no substitute for brushing his teeth.

The most critical element in brushing your dog’s teeth is doggy toothpaste. Unlike human toothpaste, which is not intended for consumption, dog toothpaste is meant to be swallowed. Since your dog can’t “rinse and spit,” this is important.

Before you try to brush your dog’s teeth, get him used to having his mouth handled. Start out slowly, and incorporate lots of praise as you lift his lips and touch his teeth. Once he’s gotten accustomed to you touching his mouth, introduce him to the toothbrush you’ll be using. Let him sniff and lick it, and then touch it to just one or two teeth at a time. Get him accustomed to the toothpaste as well, by letting him smell it and lick it off your fingers and the brush. When he’s comfortable with you handling his mouth, the brush and the paste, start the brushing process. Initially you might only do one or two teeth, but as he gets used to it, you can gradually incorporate the whole mouth. Hold the brush at a 45-degree angle, and make sure you’re getting the gum line. If you have a puppy, start brushing when he’s a baby.

Veterinary dentists recommend you brush your dog’s teeth daily, and many manufacturers of doggy tooth products usually suggest a minimum of three times per week. The more often you brush the better, but even weekly brushing is a positive step towards better health. On the days you don’t brush, consider using an oral solution, spray or water additive designed for the teeth. Remember though, that just as mouthwash doesn’t replace your toothbrush, these products aren’t a substitute for brushing.

Finally, remember to have your veterinarian check your dog’s teeth, and schedule necessary cleaning as he recommends. This will require a general anesthesia. As with human surgery, there is always a risk when a dog is put under, and brushing at home will extend the time between cleanings. If your dog will be anesthetized for another routine procedure, ask your vet about having his teeth cleaned while he’s already under.

Your dog may not have a winning smile, but dental care is still important. Start working today to brush his pearly whites!


Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.


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