Caring for a dog's teeth is a routine that many breeders have used for years, but that is just now becoming common with dog owners. Just like people, different dogs and different breeds of dog will have stronger and healthier teeth than others. In addition some foods, especially soft foods such as canned and semi-moist foods may not provide the scraping action needed to remove tartar and plaque from the teeth, resulting in poor dental conditions that can result in early tooth loss, problems with infections in the mouth, gum disease and even digestive disorders.
In a dog's wild, natural state a large percentage of their food would be meaty bones or fiber type items such as fruits and vegetables and even chewing on grasses. These natural food items, particularly bones, act as abrasive substances that work to scrape the plague off the teeth and keep the gums healthy. In canned or semi-moist foods not only is there a higher chemical component that may lead to tooth damage and decay, but there is also no abrasion against the teeth by the food as the dog eats. The result is that particles of the moist foods lodge between the teeth with nothing in the dog's diet to scrape them off. Just like with people, the longer the food sits against the tooth enamel the greater the chance for tooth decay will be.
Often the first signs of dental problems and issues is the noticeable discoloration of the teeth close to the gum line. This can range in color from a yellowish discoloration through to a deep caramel or even dark brown to black color along the gum line and up over the teeth. Usually by this advanced stage there is also a highly noticeable irritated, bright red area around the tooth in the gums. With severe dental issues there may also be bleeding from the gums, foul smelling breath and teeth that are very loose or that begin to fall out. Tooth loss is very serious in dogs because it will limit the kinds of foods that they can eat and can possibly lead to nutritional problems as the dog ages.
Thankfully there are some simple steps that dog and puppy owners can use to help their dog's avoid or minimize tooth decay. Some of the easy and fun tips and tricks are to provide your dog with abrasive, safe things to chew while playing or while they are alone. Nylon dog bones, meaty knuckle bones, and specialized toys that are texturized to provide a scraping action on the teeth are ideal. There are also several types of dental bones or edible dental chew treats that are designed to provide this natural scraping action that are great for between brushing treats. They are not effective in removing already established plaque deposits that are advanced in size.
There are few dental supplies that the dog owner will need to start this routine. The younger you start your puppy the better, even before they get their permanent teeth is ideal. The basic supplies include a specially shaped dog tooth brush or soft baby toothbrush, a specialized finger sleeve and some doggy toothpaste. Avoid using human toothpaste as the strong flavors of human toothpaste is not usually appreciated by the dog or puppy and can result in a bad experience for the dog, making tooth brushing more challenging.
Puppy Dental Routines
Starting your puppy with regular, twice weekly or every other day tooth brushing routines is a wonderful idea that only takes a few minutes. Many people include the dental cleaning in the grooming program and it just becomes part of the puppies routine.
The first step of the program is to get the puppy used to having fingers in his or her mouth, or a very small toothbrush. Puppies will, of course, want to chew on either item, so they must be treated very gently but also understand that this is not a game. Start by simply rubbing your fingers over the front teeth and rewarding the puppy for not biting or mouthing. Doing this after feeding is a good idea as the puppy is less inclined to want to play and may be very relaxed and even a bit sleepy. Once the puppy is comfortable with the front teeth, gradually move around to the side, being very careful not to hit the gums or push too far to the back of the mouth to cause discomfort.
Once the puppy is calm with this, add either the toothbrush or a finger sleeve, which is just a texturized cloth finger that slips over your index finger. Add a bit of toothpaste and stroke gently against the teeth, paying particular attention to the gum line. The whole process should only take a minute or two. Provide a healthy dental treat as a reward when you have finished.
Dog Dental Routines
If the dog has been trained from a puppy, typically they are calm and will sit willingly for their dental routine. If the dog has never had their teeth brushed, this may be a bit of a new and maybe even stressful event. Start, like with puppies, in having the dog comfortable with you handling their muzzle and mouth area. Use your finger to gently rub the teeth in the front of the mouth, then gradually move to the sides. To get to the inside surface of the teeth the dog will need to open his or her mouth, which will usually be a natural occurrence if the dog feels comfortable and safe with the owner.
If the dog snaps, bites or growls you may need to work more on the desensitization as they may be nervous and afraid of what is happening. For mature dogs that are very uncomfortable having and extra person to help hold the dog may be required for the first few times, but it is really much better to go slowly and make the dog feel comfortable rather than trying to force the issue.