February is National Dental Health month and the perfect time to discuss your dog’s oral hygiene. Most people don’t realize how important good oral health is for their dog. Not only does good oral health mean fresh breath, it also plays an important role in the overall health of your pet. When your dog has a dental disease, it can affect their respiratory health, their cardiac health and the health of their kidneys.
Imagine if you didn’t brush your teeth every day. Your breath would get smelly very quickly and pretty soon people would start to avoid having close conversations with you. The smell that occurs as a result of not brushing your teeth is from the buildup of bacteria in your mouth. The same process occurs with pets – only they have the added bacteria from grooming their body and exploring the world with their mouths!
The bacteria continues to build as the nasty plaque forms on the teeth. This bacteria erodes the outer layers of the tooth and gums causing inflammation and pain for your dog. The bacteria damages the gums, the tooth, the bone beneath the gums, and the ligaments that hold the tooth in place. It can get into the bloodstream and also spread to other areas of the body and affect other body systems. Luckily, maintaining healthy gums and teeth is easy and inexpensive. The chart below explains the stages of canine dental disease:
Brushing teeth only takes a couple of minutes every day. Not much time at all, right? You’ll need a soft toothbrush and pet specific toothpaste. Human toothpaste should not be used because it contains ingredients that can be harmful to your pet if swallowed. Pet toothpaste has flavours that are more tasty to your pet too (such as chicken flavour or tuna flavour). Just don’t mix up your toothpaste with the pet toothpaste!
To brush your pet’s teeth, put a thin layer of the toothpaste on the soft toothbrush. You don’t need much toothpaste, just enough to cover the bristles of the toothbrush. Once the toothbrush is ready to go, gently hold the mouth shut and position the toothbrush between the lip and the teeth. Brush in small circular strokes and make sure to get the outer surface of all the teeth, even the big molars in the back. You don’t need to worry about getting the inner tooth surface (the side of the tooth that faces the tongue) because that can be awkward to do and there is a chance you might injure your pet’s mouth. Always end on a positive note – give your dog a high-value treat (that’s a treat that is really tasty for your dog and something they only get after the brushing). If you haven’t ever brushed your pet’s teeth, you might see a bit of blood on the toothbrush. Don’t let that dissuade you from brushing the teeth. As the gums health improve and toughen, the blood won’t occur anymore.
Ideally, daily brushing should be a habit that starts when your dog is still young. Puppies don’t really need the brushing for health reasons because they start to lose their baby teeth at four months of age. However, it is important for the puppy to get used to the toothbrush and the routine of brushing. As the dog ages, it is critical for the health of the dog. It’s also important for your relationship to your dog. If your dog has breath so bad you can’t stand being near them, it can affect the special bond you have. If your dog has dental disease that requires professional assistance, then that affects your pocket book! Good oral hygiene is easy to maintain, and it doesn’t take much time from your busy day and is a good way to prevent pain for your dog and improve their quality of life.
There are some other things you can do to help in maintaining healthy teeth in addition to brushing teeth. You should avoid table foods and soft dog treats. You should feed premium quality dog food and you can purchase treats designed as an aid to healthy teeth. There are even specific dental diets that you can purchase for your dog. Please speak with us about our specific recommendations and let us know if you have any questions about your dog’s oral health. We love to see a dog with a super smile!
Written by Cambrian Animal Hospital