Teeth

April 12, 2012

The Importance of Dental Care

Although dogs haven’t become domesticated enough to stand up to the basin, grin in the mirror and brush their own teeth, dog dental care is still very important. Like humans bits of food, plaque and a buildup of various other things can cause rotten teeth, proverbial dog breathe and tooth ache. As a dog owner it is just as important to take care of your canine’s teeth as it is to look after your own teeth.

In extreme cases, such a buildup can cause the bacteria to become potent and travel with the saliva, entering the blood stream, giving the dog problems in the major organs (this can happen in humans to). This problem is known as periodontal disease and shockingly affects 80% of all dogs at some point in their lives, but can be prevented by adequate dental care.

On top of this apart from not wanting to see your dog in pain, when a pooch is hurting they can become vicious and have a change of temperament, making dental care like all aspects of your dog’s health very important.

The Anatomy of Dog Teeth

Very much like their best friends (humans), dogs have two sets of gnashers throughout their lifetime although their permanent second set, or adult teeth grow through a lot sooner than in humans. In nature terms, as a puppy they are not expected to do much hunting and grinding, so their puppy teeth are relatively small and weak, and they do not have any molars (grinding teeth). Between 3 and 6 weeks after birth you’ll start to notice these puppy teeth (28 to be exact) as they begin to come off their mother’s milk and go on to solids. At about four months of age they already lose their puppy teeth for permanent adult teeth, with the molars growing through a few months later. In theory they are now ready to kill and eat their food, but in actuality they are now ready to eat tinned meat and chew dad’s slippers!

Like human babies, puppies have an irritating and often painful time when they are teething, often biting, chewing and barking because of the discomfort. It is often a good idea to buy a chew toy to aid their relief, although they tend to like trainers. If there is a considerable amount of pain or you notice the adult teeth haven’t grown through properly you need to take your dog to vet for further examination. A good sign that they need treatment is if the baby teeth don’t fall out as the adult teeth erupt or if they grow at different angles.

Dog teeth generally come through in the following order – incisors, canines, premolars and molars and adult dogs have roughly 42 teeth, 12 incisors, 4 canines, 16 pre molars and 10 molars, each evenly placed on the top and lower jaw, apart from the 6 molars on the bottom jaw and four on the top.

The incisors are used by dogs to groom themselves and other dogs as well as shredding food in to strips to make it more manageable, often from the bone. Canines, the big scary teeth are used for protection or hunting, although for domesticated dogs they are generally used for holding things like toys. The premolars are used for grabbing and tearing food, whereas the molars are used for chewing and grinding, and can be even be use to grind and crush harder substances like bone or just tough dog biscuits. It’s the molars and premolars that dogs use to chew on toys etc. Speaking of bones, although you commonly think of dogs with bones try to avoid cooked bones which can splinter and damage the dog’s insides. They are however a good deterrent for plaque.

Checking your Dog’s Teeth Regularly

To maintain your dog’s dental health it is important to check their teeth and mouth region on a regular basis and doing it every day as part of their daily examination would be a good idea. The main thing to look out for is very bad breathe (they are allowed to smell a bit, after all they are dogs), receding or damaged gums and any build up of tartar or other debris. Sores may not always be directly attributed to bad dental hygiene, but inflammation usually is and needs to be assessed.

It is often softer food that gets stuck between teeth or sticks around the gums that causes gums and teeth to rot, so if this becomes a problem or if you want to prevent any problems to begin with, simply feeding your dog harder foods like dog biscuits can help. Imagine the hard food is like a toothbrush that scrapes the plaque and tartar off the teeth and gums.

Introducing your dog to chew toys (if they haven’t already found the couch) is also a good way to prevent dental problems and you’ll be surprised to see your dog going to chew things after eating, as if they want to clean their teeth themselves. There are specially chews and dog toys for teeth, although regular dog toys can also help, since they chew everything anyway.

Although it is not always necessary some people like to brush their dog’s teeth, but remember to use formulated dog toothpaste, not human toothpaste. Baking soda works fine if you just want to quickly use something from in the home but may cause harm after prolonged usage. This is covered later on in the article.

Other Signs of Dental Problems

There are various tell tale signs that your dog has some kind of dental problems and needs to visit a vet. As well as bad breathe and plaque / tartar buildup there are other things to look out for. Swollen or discolored gums are such a sign and point to the dog having some kind of gum infection of gum disease.

When a dog is in pain they will often paw and scratch at the spot, this is why when they do it to their face you may think the problem is on the outside, when it is really a problem within the mouth. Even if you cannot see any real issues, if your dog is constantly pawing at their mouth and facial region it’s at least a sign of severe discomfort and possible dental problems. Tooth roots travel down in to the jaw so it could be a hidden problem and should be checked out by a professional.

Another common sign of discomfort and pain is in your dog’s eating and chewing habits. If they are suddenly and abnormally off their food, or are reluctant to chew then that is usually an indicator that there is something wrong with the teeth or gums. It’s not always directly related to the teeth but should be checked out none the less.

If you haven’t checked your pet’s teeth in a while then there are also other obvious signs that a vet should be contacted, such as broken or loose teeth. If your dog has chipped a tooth by a freak accident, it may not been bothering them now but could cause problems in the future ad might fall out altogether, so getting it checked over is usually necessary.

Brushing Dogs Teeth

A common way to maintain the health of dog’s teeth is to brush them in much the same fashion as humans brush theirs. This gets rid of plaque and stray food buildup and reaches the spots that chew toys, food chews and harder items like dog biscuits cannot reach. The main reason this is not always done is because firstly dogs do not need to brush their teeth every day (they obviously don’t have the same social reasons to brush everyday like humans) and it can be really hard to make the dog stay put when a strange brush is scratching and making scary noises in their mouth. Still, a good brush will definitely help with your dog’s overall dental care and should definitely be looked in to by the conscientious owner.

There are numerous tools and brushes on the market that are very similar to human tooth brushes, although the most popular is the finger brush. These simply slot on to the index finger like the finger of a glove and contain either bristles or rubber serration with which you can scrub your dog’s teeth with. If for whatever reason you do not wish to stick your finger in the dog’s mouth then regular dog tooth brushes (like human ones) work fine, although many owners say their dogs are less fidgety when using the finger brush. Electric brushes can be quite scary, but you know your own dog’s behavior so they may be able to take it.

It must be noted that deciding to brush your dog’s teeth should begin at an early age and using it as a last panic resort to finding inflamed or damaged gums and bad teeth will only worsen the problem and possibly cause them to bleed. You should seek a vet at this point.

As for tooth paste you must use specially formulated “dog” toothpaste, which can now be bought from most pet stores and some regular stores. Unlike humans, dogs can’t stick their head under the tap, gargle and spit out the paste so their paste is specifically designed without any detergents that might upset their stomachs. Fluoride especially harms them (may cause vomiting and kidney damage), but is a mainstay in human toothpaste. Most dog pastes also come in a meat like flavor instead of minty fresh to help along the process.

Getting a dog used to brushing can be easy or hard depending on the dog, but the usual ways to make your dog a brush lover is to firstly let them taste the paste and lick the brush a little to get a feeling for it, then as they are enjoying it simply move the brush in a circular motion like cleaning your own teeth. All the while petting the dog and praising it to keep it calm and relaxed. Easier access to the teeth can be made by pulling back the lips, but be gentle and continue to clam them at the same time to prevent them becoming agitated.

Overall brushing your dog’s teeth once or twice a week should be sufficient if you’ve stayed proactive in caring for their teeth so far (with chew toys etc), but if they appear to need it more often then 3 or more times a week should be ok, just be careful not to overdo it and actually inflame the gums. You’ll notice after 3 or 4 times that they’ll get used to it and be more interested in eating the paste than you finger in their mouth.

Professional Cleaning

If you see any problems that can’t be dealt with at home then you should be sure to visit a vet, but even the cleanest of dog’s teeth need some professional work sometimes. Humans go for checkups every 6 months or so and you may have had a scale and a polish yourself to remove built up tartar and such that couldn’t be reached with brushing. Dogs are the same and it is common to take your dog for a checkup every one to three years.

Professional cleanings normally involve the dog being put under a general anesthesia for easy and pain free access. They will the scale (basically a vibrating, scraping and chiseling motion) to remove any tartar, followed by a polish to make them sparkle and a forceful flushing to remove all the bits and bats that were removed. This leaves the mouth clean and healthy, but be sure to follow any guidance from the vet following the procedure.

If you are yet to take up brushing your dog’s teeth a good time to start is after a professional cleaning, so you have a good canvas to start on.

Just because you can’t always see it, doesn’t mean it is not there. Dental hygiene for a dog is just as important as any other health issues they may have and it’s the owner’s responsibility to give them the care they need.

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