February is national Pet Dental Health month— do you know where your dog’s toothbrush is? If not, put one on your list of things to pick up the next time you’re out, along with a tube of made-for-dogs toothpaste (human brands can upset a dog’s stomach, among other things). Daily brushing is one of the easiest things you can do to protect your dog’s overall health. Granted, few dogs will step up to the bathroom sink and let you give their teeth a good scrubbing, but with patience and a few positivereinforcement techniques, you can help your dog be more cooperative. (The American Veterinary Medical Association has an excellent instructional video on YouTube—see it here.)
When your dog goes in for her annual examination, your vet will check out her teeth and gums and may recommend a thorough cleaning, which requires anesthesia. Anesthesia free dental cleaning is also an option, though it too is best performed in the vet’s office; it has its advantages, but it’s not for all dogs, and ultimately, doesn’t result in as good a cleaning as one performed under anesthesia.
When all is said and done, the few seconds a day it takes to whisk a brush across your dog’s pearly whites will pay off in better health, not to mention sweeter kisses.
Facts and figures:
- No matter how big or small your dog is, she has 42 teeth. If she’s one of the toy or short-nosed breeds, those teeth are likely to be crowded, which means greater potential for developing dental problems.
- According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, roughly 80 percent of all dogs over the age of three have some degree of dental disease.
- Dogs’ teeth are awash in bacteria-rich plaque, which, when combined with minerals in the saliva, hardens into tartar (or calculus) that traps even more bacteria. Left unattended, your dog’s gums can become infl amed, resulting in gingivitis and ultimately, periodontal disease.
- Oral bacteria can enter your dog’s bloodstream and cause damage to her heart, liver, kidneys and lungs.
- Most plaque buildup occurs on the cheek side of your dog’s teeth, so when brushing, concentrate your efforts there. And you need to be quick— dogs have limited patience with this kind of personal-hygiene exercise.
- When used with supervision, rawhide, raw bones, special chews, dental bones and toys, and other healthy products that work by scraping off plaque (but not tartar) can also help, although they shouldn’t be relied upon to do the whole job.