Has your dentist scared you straight? At my last visit, the oral hygienist alerted me that strong dental care is closely linked to overall personal health and that recent research links gum disease to such life-threatening ailments as heart disease, strokes, diabetes, kidney disease and lung problems. This information makes it pretty difficult to justify skipping a nightly floss-brush-Scope routine for a few extra minutes under the covers.
It’s possible you’ve had a similar experience at the dentist and I’m already preaching to the choir. You might be converted, but what about your pet? Yes, this alarming correlation between mouth and body extends to the animals that we raise and nurture. Unlike me, my golden retriever, Hailey, can’t stare in the mirror and shame herself into brushing. If she is to avoid periodontal disease (an infection of the gums), it’s going to be up to me to provide the proper care and know-how. Dogs’ teeth accumulate plaque and tartar, which can easily turn into infections of the gum and eventually cause kidney or liver disease, as well as other ailments that are linked to poor dental hygiene (heart disease, diabetes, etc.). Still—it appears that most owners don’t take serious consideration of their pet’s dental needs. “It’s estimated that by the age of two, 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats have some form of periodontal disease,” says Dr. Brook Niemiec, a veterinary expert on pet dental health. “The best way to prevent periodontal disease is by regularly brushing your pet’s teeth and by regularly visiting your veterinarian.”
The question, then, becomes how to properly brush a dog’s teeth. First and foremost, it’s all about the precedent you set. The younger you start, the easier it will be to acclimate your dog to the sensation of having his/her teeth brushed. If your dog is older like Hailey, then you might have to endure a fair amount of squirming and dodging during teeth scrubbing sessions with the special formulated paste (don’t ever use a human formula). Here are some tips, offered by Dogdentalcare.net, which will help to get your dog accustomed to the idea of brushing.
1. Don’t just dive-bomb your dog with a finger brush. Have her lick the toothpaste off your bare finger so she can get used to the flavor (which is generally poultry or malt).
2. After a few days, begin to gently rub the toothpaste with your finger along your dog’s gums. Always praise good behavior!
3. Acclimate your dog to the toothbrush by letting her lick toothpaste off of the apparatus itself. Different options for brushes include finger brushes (that slip over your finger), dental sponges, dog dental wipes, triple and quad brushes, and bamboo quad brushes.
4. After about a week, you can start brushing gently on a few teeth (either one or both of the upper canines is a good place to start). Lift the upper lip and place the brush at a 45-degree angle to the gum line. Use a friendly demeanor!
5. Once your dog is comfortable with the sensation, move on to other teeth. Make it fun! Be relaxed.
Maybe your dog doesn’t enjoy your fingers in her mouth, but you can still find other approaches to prevent periodontal diseases. Nothing will replace a program of brushing at least three times a week, but switching from canned or dry food to a raw diet can help. Bones scrape your dog’s teeth of plaque while eating, and enzymes in raw food help dissolve particles on the teeth that form plaque. Chewing on a bone, either natural or Nylabone, or another hard toy will also assist your dog in self-maintenance. Dental treats and oral rinse can be beneficial, but do not think these tactics will substitute for the actual act of brushing.
If you haven’t been particularly watchful in the past, now is the time to keep notice of the condition of your dog’s teeth. Bad breath; swollen, red or bleeding gums; missing or fractured teeth; and yellow brown crust of tartar can all be signs that you need to invest more time in your dog’s dental care. Also, watch for changes in behavior, such as pawing at the mouth, which could suggest a dental issue. Don’t forget that a toothache is just that—it pains your pet just as it would you.
You’re not alone. Regular visits to your veterinarian are essential. They will work with you on a routine that will help your dog to mouth full of pearly whites. More importantly, however, proper dog dental care will lessen the chances of interminable health problems that can plague your pal and potentially shorten your time together.
By Andrew Rhoades