Dental care experts report that without proper oral hygiene, 75% of dogs show signs of dental disease by three years old. As a result, your dog’s dental care should be emphasized now more than ever; with the ever-growing selection of foods, treats, other delectables comes an even higher prevalence of dental disease in dogs. Canine Gingivitis, gum infections, and other periodontal problems create harmful bacteria which can get into your pup’s bloodstream and damage her heart, lungs, liver, intestinal tract, and kidneys. Familiarizing your pooch with home dental care is the best way to ensure long-term oral health. Coupled with regular veterinary check-ups, most irritation and tartar formation can be treated in the early, preventable stages.

Understanding Your Dog’s Mouth

Before you can successfully care for your pooch’s pearly whites, you should first learn how the teeth develop and operate. Let’s start from the beginning. Dogs are born without any teeth and then grow them two to three weeks later. At two months, puppies have about 28 temporary teeth, including incisors, pre-molars and cuspids (“canines”). But these temporary teeth are short-lasting; dogs begin losing them 1 month later. By the time they reach six months, a dog has roughly 42 permanent teeth. As with human infants, this period of a dog’s life is marked by severe discomfort and pain. Most dogs—like human babies—will chew relentlessly and mouth anything in sight to ease the irritation. An adult dog’s mouth typically includes 12 incisors (the small front teeth) which are used for personal grooming and picking up small objects. Alongside those, four long, pointed cuspids allow your pooch to puncture food and other large pieces. These edible chunks are then passed to the middle of the mouth where 16 premolars begin slicing; finally, 10 molars in the very back grind and crush the remaining fragments into digestible portions for easy swallowing.

Proper Dog Dental Care

First and foremost, you must remain aware of what your dog eats and plays with. Compressed rawhide bones, knobby rubber toys, and dental chews are critical components of dental hygiene; these products aren’t hard enough to damage teeth and actually assist in the tartar-removal process. On the other hand, small toys and most real bones should be closely monitored, since they can pose significant problems if they’re broken into pieces and then swallowed.

How to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth

Ongoing oral hygiene for your dog is actually quite simple. There are just a few basic steps to learn. In fact, the most important factor is not so much the length or duration of each individual brushing or grooming session, but rather in the consistency with which you do it. It’s far better to clean your dog’s teeth a couple of minutes every other day than to have a single marathon brushing once per week. There are several toothpastes and toothbrushes designed especially for dogs at the pet store. Oh, this is a great time to advise you not to use any toothpaste or other oral hygiene product designed for people (i.e. Crest, Colgate, etc.) with your pooch. People ‘paste contains irritants, bleaches, and fluoride, which is not good for the stomach. Of course, we humans typically spit and rinse out most toothpaste residue, but our four-legged pups aren’t likely to follow our lead. They only know two actions: chew and swallow.

Starting the Oral Care Regimen

If you’re just starting out, we recommend the finger brush, a small hood worn over your finger with soft rubber bristles on one side. A similar product is used for human infants, and the principle is the same. You’re using a familiar object (your finger) to introduce the dog to an unfamiliar experience (teeth brushing). Oh, and while you’re inside the mouth, be sure to massage the gums and check for any signs of tartar, which appears as a dark yellow film typically where the tooth meets the gum line. Once your pooch adjusts to the finger brush, you can later upgrade to a regular dog toothbrush. The actual brushing method is also important. To insure maximum effectiveness, try to keep the brush at a 45-degree angle, and be sure to spend time cleaning each tooth and gum line. Spend 1 minute making small circular motions, followed by an additional minute of vertical strokes. This two-minute, two-step process should dislodge those pesky food particles and discourage the formation of plaque. Ideally, try to brush your dog’s teeth several times a week.

Recognize the Red Flags

Due in part to their non-acidic saliva, cone-shaped teeth, and natural chewing habits, dogs rarely have tooth decay. However, if you notice chronic bad breath, oral bleeding, or other unusual periodontal activity, seek immediate veterinary attention. Infection is likely present, and professional help is necessary.

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