February is Pet Dental Health Month, but just as your dog’s training and grooming require year-round attention, so do his teeth and gums.
Loose, infected, or diseased teeth and gums can spawn a primordial soup of harmful bacteria. When pus-laden saliva is continuously swallowed it can cause a chain reaction of problems on down the line throughout the body. Would you want to swallow that mixture for days, weeks, even months at a time without being able to tell anyone about it?
It is a rare dog that will particularly look forward to having his teeth brushed, but starting him as a puppy will give you a foundation for life-long dental care. Some dogs and later-life rescues may find tooth brushing to be more of an obtrusion, but the health benefits are still worth your effort to regularly clean your dog’s teeth.
Of paramount importance is the toothpaste you use. Humans don’t swallow their toothpaste, but dogs do! Be sure to use a canine-approved toothpaste. It is a little more expensive, but well worth the tradeoff of having to clean the floor of what seems like gallons of vomited clear stomach fluid, which can be the result of using human toothpaste or baking soda for canine dental care.
Doggie toothbrushes and finger brushes are the most common implements in our battle against tooth decay. First, put a bit of canine toothpaste on the brush and just put it up against your pet’s mouth. He will likely lick it. A few minutes later, put another dollop on the brush and get it inside his mouth. Next, try to reach into the rear of his mouth. If you get that far on the first date, pat yourself on the back, call it a day, and go gargle with Listerine or another adult beverage. You may spend a few minutes for several days in a row at these steps.
When your dog is comfortable with the above, try lightly brushing his rear teeth, moving forward. Try to use a circular motion, using care to massage but not scour his gums.
Some dogs will clamp down on the toothbrush and cause a stalemate at the side of the mouth. It is counterproductive to try to pry a dog’s mouth open. Instead, relax your hand. Eventually your dog will have to change his bite on the toothbrush. With experience, you can discern a rhythm in your dog’s oral motions as he opens, licks the brush and clamps down again. Getting in synch with this rhythm will reduce stalemates—and prevent them from becoming checkmates.
Liquids are available to add to your dog’s daily drinking water to help retard tartar buildup. Similar products come in spray form. These help greatly, but only brushing will massage and stimulate his gums.
Ideally, teeth should be brushed as often as daily, but in order to achieve a modicum of maintenance, this must be done at least once a week. Slight bleeding of gums after a vigorous brushing is not usually a problem, but if the blood is heavy or starts immediately after brushing begins, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Respect any growls or defensive body language signs from your dog. These procedures could possibly cause pain or discomfort in a dog, depending on his health and history. Always start with a call your veterinarian if you suspect your dog is having an abnormal reaction to a situation that should not be causing him pain.
Conscientious as we may be in our home dental care, an annual professional cleaning at the vet is often necessary for optimum dental and overall health; ask your vet how often you should be bringing your dog in for teeth cleaning, as this varies from dog to dog.