Canine’s Canines: Dental Care for Dogs

It may not be everyone’s favorite way to spend part of their day, but regular dentist visits are an important part of maintaining our overall health. The same goes for your dog, who should be checked at least once a year by your veterinarian to monitor his dental health and spot any problems early on.But first things first…puppy teeth. Your pup’s first teeth come in when they are about five or six weeks old, and begin to fall out around 12 weeks. Don’t be surprised if you find a tiny tooth on the floor here and there--and don’t be surprised if you don’t find any! Puppies will often lose their baby teeth in a toy, outside, or even swallow them. You may also notice bleeding of their gums, which is an equally normal occurrence for this phase (though check with your vet if it seems excessive). Teething can also be an uncomfortable process for your puppy, so keeping a few safe chew toys around for him can help. Aside from regular visits, it’s important to notify your vet if you spot any problems with your dog’s teeth. These can include:
  • Bad breath (‘dog breath’ is a misnomer--your dog’s breath shouldn’t smell nasty unless he just ate something; otherwise it’s a sign of tartar or bacteria buildup.)
  • Broken or loose teeth
  • Teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
  • Abnormal chewing, drooling, or dropping food from the mouth
  • Reduced appetite or refusal to eat
  • Pain in or around the mouth
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Swelling in or around the mouth
As with most areas of your dog’s healthcare regimen, prevention is the best medicine. Here are some easy steps you can take at home to help keep your pup’s teeth healthy and strong.
  • Take some time to inspect your dog's mouth completely. Come down to his level to make him more comfortable and check for signs of a problem such as bad breath or discoloration of his teeth or gums. For dogs, dental problems can cause, or be caused by, other health problems, so it’s vital that these early signs be shared with your vet.
  • Pay particular attention if you’ve been hiking with your dog or spending time where ticks might be present; in seeking a warm spot to attach, they can sometimes target a dog’s gums, lips or jowls.
  • Brush your dog’s teeth every day. Or, if this proves difficult, use a specially made dental wipe. Even a Q-Tip® can do the job if need be. Making this a habit will help to remove plaque and tartar, avoiding build up that could lead to other problems. Also, be sure to use a soft toothbrush; too much friction can scratch your dog’s tooth enamel which leads to other issues.
Let your dog enjoy some yummy meal time options that are known to help prevent dental disease. Products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council include dog foods, treats and even water additives.  

A word about anesthesia
Should your dog require a more involved teeth cleaning at your veterinarian’s office, they will most likely talk to you about anesthetizing him for the procedure. Although this may seem extreme, it’s actually quite commonplace. In fact, the American Veterinary Dental College doesn’t recommend dental cleanings without anesthesia, as they don’t allow cleaning or inspection below the gum line, where most dental disease occurs. Inspecting this area on a dog who is alert is difficult and can result in an injury to the dog or the person performing the procedure.This is a lot of information, but the basic message is simple. By taking easy steps each day to focus on your dog’s dental health, you can keep small issues from becoming bigger problems, and keep your pup free of pain or discomfort. Certainly worth a few minutes a day!