One of the biggest complaints people have about their dogs is bad doggie breath. Not surprisingly, periodontal disease is one of the most common problems veterinarians see in dogs. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the answer, dear owner, lies not in our dogs but in ourselves. Your dog can't brush his teeth himself, so it's up to you to do it for him. Brushing your dog's teeth daily — or at least several times a week — will help prevent the buildup of bacteria-trapping plaque, which hardens into ugly brown tartar and eventually causes gum disease. Your dog's breath will smell much better, and he'll keep more of his teeth as he ages. He'll have fewer bacteria circulating in his system. Also, he'll need fewer expensive veterinary cleanings. It's a win-win situation.
Brushing the Teeth
Use a toothbrush and toothpaste made especially for dogs. Look for a toothbrush with a long handle, soft bristles, and an angled head for ease of brushing. Some dog toothbrushes have two ends, one large for cleaning the front teeth and one small for cleaning the teeth way in the back of the mouth. You can also use a small, nubby rubber brush that fits over your finger like a thimble. This may be the best choice for puppies or small dogs. Doggie toothpaste should contain enzymes to fight plaque. Some varieties have fluoride to help control bacteria. Avoid using toothpaste made for people, which can contain baking soda, detergents, or salts that can upset your dog's stomach. Many dog toothpastes are flavored like beef or chicken to add to their appeal.
If your puppy enjoys chewing, encourage the habit throughout his life. Chewing helps keep the teeth clean. Provide your dog with chew toys that assist in dental care, such as enzymatic chew sticks and ridged Kong chews.
If your dog wasn't introduced to tooth-brushing as a puppy, work up to it by wiping out his mouth daily with a damp washcloth or piece of gauze. After a couple of weeks, he'll be used to having you touch his mouth and teeth, and you can introduce the brush and toothpaste. Starting where the teeth and gums meet, hold the brush at a 45-degree angle and gently move it in an oval pattern. Be sure to get the bristles between the teeth as well as at the base of the tooth. It's not necessary to brush the inside of the teeth, just the outside. The upper teeth in the back are most important, but try to get all teeth if possible.
When yellow or brown plaque has built up on your dog's teeth, he needs more help than home tooth brushing can provide. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a professional cleaning. Groomers may offer to remove plaque or tartar with a dental scaler, but they can't get to the diseased area below the gum line. A veterinary cleaning, done under anesthesia, has three purposes: to immobilize your dog for a more thorough cleaning; to prevent him from feeling any pain during the cleaning; and to allow the veterinarian to place a tube into the windpipe, which prevents bacteria from entering the respiratory system.
Should I be concerned about anesthetizing my dog?
Remember that today's veterinary anesthetic agents are very safe. Preanesthetic blood work can help to plan the safest anesthetic procedures for dogs with health risks. A good veterinarian will also have equipment to monitor your dog during the cleaning to provide even greater safety.
Before a professional cleaning, the veterinarian will give your dog a physical exam. He may order preanesthetic blood work, depending on your dog's age and condition. Once your dog is anesthetized, the veterinarian will thoroughly examine his mouth, remove tartar, scale the area below the gum line, polish the teeth, rinse the mouth, and apply fluoride. Afterward, he may prescribe antibiotics to ward off potential bacterial infections. The cost for a professional cleaning varies, depending on the condition of your dog's teeth and whether he needs lab work before the cleaning and antibiotics afterward.