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Caring for your Dog's Teeth and Understanding What Can Go Wrong

Keeping teeth and gums clean is an important part of your dog's overall health.
Dental care at home and veterinary dental cleaning is essential for all dogs, especially for little dogs. In little dogs, the bone that holds the teeth is thinner so gum disease can be more of a problem.

Common Dental Problems
Gum disease is common in dogs. Many dogs over the age of 2 or 3 have either gingivitis or periodontitis.

Periodontitis, or periodontal disease, is the most common dental problem for dogs. It is caused by plaque, a mixture of bacteria, food debris, and cell mucus. It forms a milky- white film on the teeth and gums. As plaque gets into pockets under the gum-line, bacteria eats away at the bone that holds the teeth. When mixed with saliva in the mouth, plaque turns into tartar, which can stick to the teeth like cement.

Gingivitis, or gum disease, is an inflammation of the gum tissue.

It does not affect the deeper structures of the teeth. Without treatment, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, bone loss, loosening of the teeth, and eventually loss of teeth.

Tooth fractures. The second biggest problem for dogs and their teeth is that hard chews can break the teeth, leading to infection inside the tooth (called endodontic disease). Dogs can break their teeth surprisingly easily, just from crunching down on hard rocks, cow hooves, and other tough substances.

Many dogs are inclined to chew on hard things to exercise their gums. But the teeth used to chew are extremely vulnerable to fracture. Dogs chew in an up and down motion, which causes the object to slide off to the side of the tooth and may break it. This exposes the pulp tissue inside the tooth.

You can prevent periodontal disease by eliminating plaque before it becomes tartar. The best way to do this is through the mechanical action of brushing your dog's teeth. This reduces the amount of bacteria in the mouth, which also has the added benefit of keeping your dog's breath smelling sweeter. Try to brush your dog's teeth every day.

Toothpaste. Brush your dog's teeth with toothpaste made for dogs. People toothpaste is designed for people to spit out. Dogs can't do that, so you need to use one that's safe for the dog to swallow. Consult with your veterinarian about a good toothpaste. It's fine to use a toothbrush designed for people. If you do, choose a soft, nylon brush. For smaller dogs, use a child's size toothbrush.

Toothbrush. Introducing a toothbrush is a process of building confidence and trust. Gentle encouragement works best. One way of getting your dog used to a toothbrush is to take some garlic salt, mix it with water, and dip an old toothbrush into it. Hold the brush, and let your dog lick or chew the brush. The dog will realize that a toothbrush is good and that it tastes good. You can do this a few times so the dog won't be scared of the brushing process, and will let you brush daily.

Dogs' teeth touch only in one or two places, and their teeth are narrow. A toothbrush reaches 90% of the area that needs to be cleaned. The toothbrush doesn't always reach the teeth that are farthest back in the dog's mouth, but this is not the most important area. Chewing on a cotton rope bone can help clean those back teeth.

Professional cleaning. Another important part of making sure that your dog's teeth and gums are clean is to have the teeth professionally cleaned by your veterinarian. A veterinarian will anesthetize your dog, scrape all of the plaque buildup from above and below the gumline, and then polish the teeth.

Home checkup. Get in the habit of looking in your dog's mouth to check for broken or cracked teeth. Look especially closely at the very large forth tooth, counting back from the fang (not counting the fang). If that tooth doesn't have a sharp point, look inside and see if it's rough. If you can see pulp tissue, the tooth can become infected, develop a big abscess, and even some swelling under the eyes. Contact a veterinary dentist as soon as possible.

Home safety. Don't let your dog chew on rocks, bones, cow hooves, or hard nylon or ceramic bones. Safer chewing toys are those made of rubber, soft rope bones, or bones that are soft enough to provide the necessary chewing exercise without the possibility of breaking teeth. Rawhide may be safe for chewing, but as it softens pieces can break off and if inhaled, may cause your dog to suffocate. If swallowed, rawhide can cause an intestinal blockage.

Additional points
Food. Dry dog food helps keep the plaque level down. However, it helps only in the area that's visible, not in the important area just below the gumline. Dog biscuits can also reduce tartar, but again, only above the gumline. Brushing your dog's teeth does the best job of cleaning the important area below the gumline, where bacteria and plaque hide and can rot away the gums and bone.

Plaque. 80 percent of plaque is bacteria. Four hundred different strains of bacteria have been found in the mouths of animals. Some strains of bacteria produce odor, while others cause gum disease. Tartar Dental Ring by Omega Paw is an effective method in eliminating plaque. Bacteria is a direct result of plaque. To eliminate the odor of your dog's breath, you must eliminate the plaque.

 Dogs generally form most plaque on the outside of their teeth, but they occasionally form plaque on inside surfaces of the mouth. Daily brushing works to get rid of plaque on the outside surfaces of the mouth. Plaque Attacker Dental Balls by Nylabone can help too. However, to eliminate the plaque from the inside surfaces of the mouth, go to your veterinarian periodically to have your dog's teeth cleaned professionally.  To avoid the buildup of plaque, you must still try to brush your dog's teeth daily.

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