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Friday, January 31, 2014

National Pet Dental Health Month

February is National Pet Dental Health Month.  Do you know how to brush your dog’s teeth?  You should brush your dog’s teeth every day, ideally, or at least a couple times a week according to the AVDC (American Veterinary Dental College) website.  They say it is the best way to remove plaque – that thin layer of bacteria that hardens into tartar and can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.
We often tend to overlook our dog’s dental health until one day we realize there is a problem.  Will you set a goal with me to brush your dog’s teeth at least twice a week for the month of February?  Hopefully by the end of the month, this will be a new habit that we can continue on for the lifetime of our dogs.

To start out, you need to gather the right equipment for dog tooth brushing.  There are many flavors of dog toothpaste for sale.  You can choose any flavor that your dog likes, but make sure it is a toothpaste made for dogs – not for humans!  Human toothpaste foams and is not meant to be swallowed.  Most dogs that I know really like to swallow things and don’t understand the concept of spitting things out!  Plus, many human toothpastes may contain Xylitol and other sweeteners that are dangerous to pets! 

There are many types of dog toothbrushes.  You can use finger toothbrushes, which are small rubber brushes that fit on the end of your finger.  There are toothbrushes sold to use for pets.  You can buy a regular human toothbrush (the toddler sized brushes are good for smaller dogs and puppies) or use a battery operated toothbrush.  There are even toothbrushes that have bristles to brush three tooth surfaces at once.  Choose whatever works best for you and your dog.  You may have to try a couple different ones before you find the right fit.

Begin to teach your dog that touching her face and mouth is a good thing.  Do this gradually while you are petting her and she is relaxed.  Use long strokes as you pet gently along the sides of her face and mouth.  Then gently scratch an ear or her neck.  Then do another long stroke lingering near her cheek and lips.  Get her comfortable with you petting all around her muzzle and face gently. 
When you can easily pet along the sides of your dog’s face and mouth, begin to move your finger in a circular motion on the outside of her lips.  Her lips will probably move when you do this.  That’s ok.  Start with just a quick circle as you are petting, then progress to doing more circles in a row along the outside of her lips on both sides of her face. 

When this is going well, gently slip your finger under her upper lip while you are making circles to you gently and briefly touch her gums.  Then continue with the normal petting.  By integrating short periods of gum touching, you can get your dog used to the sensation gradually while continuing a nice petting session she will continue to enjoy.  It helps as you get to this stage to wet your finger with a bit of water first so it doesn’t stick to her gums but will glide across them easily. 
If you are using a finger brush, you can wear it now on the finger that you use to touch her gums.  Begin just as you always do, with petting her face and neck gently.  Make some quick circles on the outside of her lips with the finger brush.  She will probably want to sniff it and lick it – that’s ok.  When you’re both ready, use the finger brush to gently touch her gums and teeth.  As you both get used to this, begin to make small circles on your dog’s teeth and gums as if you are brushing them.  Build up the time gradually.

You can begin the same thing using a toothbrush by holding the brush in your hand near the bristle part, so there isn’t a lot of handle showing.  This way the bristles will be close to your hand and easier to use to brush her teeth and gums.  We’re not using toothpaste yet to keep things a bit cleaner for you and your dog while you’re still learning the mechanics of brushing and are getting your dog used to the sensation of brushing.
Most plaque and tartar form on the outside surfaces of a dog’s teeth, on the part nearest her cheeks.  This is good, since this is the easiest area for us to brush!  A toothbrush that has three sides will brush the outer as well as the inner surfaces of the tooth at the same time.  But a regular toothbrush or finger brush can only get one surface at a time.  Ask your dog’s veterinarian if it is necessary for you to brush the inner surfaces of her teeth as well.

Now let’s add the toothpaste!  Do this in a place in your home or outside that will be easy to clean, since it may get a little messy!  Put a small amount of toothpaste on the brush and begin to gently brush one side of your dog’s teeth and gums in a small circular motion like you’ve been practicing.  Your dog will probably start to try to lick the toothpaste.  That’s ok.  It’s made to be safe for dogs.  Beware if you are using a finger toothbrush that your dog doesn’t chomp down on your finger while trying to taste the toothpaste!  That will hurt!
Don’t worry about brushing all her teeth all at once on this first try unless she is being very cooperative.  Just do a few and then stop and go do something that your dog likes.  The next time, work on the teeth on the other side, so all the teeth end up getting brushed.  With time and practice, you can build up to easily brushing all your dog’s teeth in one session.  Be sure to rinse the toothbrush well, as the toothpaste will dry and harden in the brush and that is not good. 

There are other dental products out there for dogs – there are additives you put in your dog’s drinking water that may help prevent plaque from sticking to your dog’s teeth.  There are dental wipes that already have dental cleaner on them.  There are oral sprays and rinses and gels.  Check with your veterinarian before trying any of those to see what is the best product for your dog. 
Dogs like to chew, and chewing can be good for your dog’s teeth and gums, but some bones are too hard and may chip or crack your dog’s teeth.  It’s important to find healthy and safe things for your dog to chew for his emotional and physical health.  We use Kongs and other hard rubber toys here, with a few deer antlers thrown in.  Ask your vet about safe chew toy alternatives for your dog.  And while you’re there, let your vet know that you will be starting to brush your dog’s teeth regularly.  He/she may have some more great tips for you on getting started! 


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