Fall 2011 Magazine

Why Keeping Your Dog's Teeth Healthy Can Mean a Healthier Dog

By Dr. Kerry FitzPatrick, DVM

Everyone knows that they should regularly brush their dog's teeth. but how many people actually make dental care for their dog a regular priority in their lives? If you're one of the many people out there who may not be regularly carving out the time needed to care for your dog's teeth, here's something you should know: brushing a dog's teeth is as important as brushing your own teeth! And if you think that dental problems in dogs are nothing more than a little doggie breath - think again. Dental problems in dogs can cause some serious damage to your dog's teeth and gums, and even harm your dog in more serious ways - with oral diseases known to contribute to heart, liver and kidney disease in dogs.

With more than 80% of dogs over the age of 3 having some form of oral disease, dental disease (especially periodontal disease) is the most common disease for dogs. However, it's also one of the most treatable - and preventable. With a proper (and crunchy) diet, daily tooth brushing at home - and regular dental check-ups and dental care from your vet - you can help your dog not only keep his or her teeth and gums healthy, but help them maintain optimal health throughout their lifetime.

Since good dental care is perhaps one of the single most important things you can do to help add years and quality to your pet's life and smile, here are some tips to keep in mind:

. The best time to start to care for your dog's teeth is right from when they are a young puppy - good dental hygiene should start with a young pet with healthy new teeth and gums or -- in older dogs - right after your pet has had a professional cleaning.

. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush - anything other than a bristled toothbrush will not get below the gum line, which is the most important area to brush. Also, make sure to use a special vet-approved toothpaste, which often comes in flavors appealing to dogs (never use human toothpastes or baking soda which can cause problems.)

. Know that periodontal disease usually affects the upper, back teeth first and worst - so pay special attention to these teeth when brushing. Remember, plaque builds up on a dog's tooth surface daily, especially just under the gum line - in less than 36 hours, this can develop into tartar that cannot be removed with a brush. To stop this progression, brush your dog's teeth daily - again, paying special attention to brush carefully under the gum line to remove any plaque.

. Make brushing your dog's teeth a part of your pet's daily routine - picking a convenient time of day to incorporate into your daily activities. For example, you can do it just before a special treat, or right before (or after) a walk - make it something that your dog will come to expect as part of his/her daily routine . and which he/she will look forward to each day!

When brushing your dog's teeth, remember these guidelines:

. Position the bristles of the brush along the gum line of the upper back teeth and angle slightly up, so the bristles get under the gum line

. Work from back to front, making small circles along the gum lines

. If you've never tried brushing your dog's teeth, don't try to brush the whole mouth at first. If all you can do is the outside of the upper teeth, you are still addressing the most important area of periodontal disease: prevention. Keep trying during subsequent brushings - and if your dog eventually lets you brush most of his/her teeth, you're well on your way to helping your dog keep his/her teeth at their best!

Remember, though, even with regular brushing, your dog (like humans) needs the occasional professional cleaning. Talk to your vet about what he/she recommends in terms of keeping your dog's teeth and gums healthy - and make dental check-ups a part of your dog's regular yearly exams. This, together with proper brushing at home and a good healthy diet, can ensure that your dog stays smiling, and healthy, for years to come.

Dr. Kerry FitzPatrick, DVM is a veterinarian at ABQ PetCare in Albuquerque specializing in pet dental care, geriatric care, orthopedic and soft tissue surgery. For more information, visit www.abqpetcarehospital.com.

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