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Caring For Your Dog's Teeth


Like humans, dogs need to have their teeth cared for on a regular basis. Canine teeth also mirror human teeth in that dogs have baby teeth that they will shed. Puppies will generally begin to lose their baby teeth around 4 months of age. The permanent teeth will usually all be in place between 6 and 8 months of age.

Remember that your puppy will be uncomfortable through his teething period, wanting and needing to chew to relieve the discomfort associated with the new teeth that will be erupting. Keep a good selection of safe chew toys available and keep a close eye on the puppy to keep him from developing the bad habit of indiscriminate chewing. You might try keeping a frozen wet washcloth or rag in the freezer for the puppy to chew on too. The cold will help relieve the pain of teething.

Even before your puppy has all of his permanent teeth you should begin a regular dental hygiene schedule. This includes regular brushing, cleaning with a tartar scraper and yearly trips to the veterinarian for a dental exam.  Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on any further treatment that may be needed.  Regular dental cleaning by your veterinarian often requires that the dog be sedated to have the teeth cleaned with an ultrasonic scaler and then polished.

Since you know your puppy is going to be losing his puppy teeth very shortly, it may seem unnecessary to start brushing and caring for his teeth at a young age. This is definitely not true! The sooner you start teaching your puppy to allow you to handle his mouth, the easier it will be.

Start your training by gently lifting the puppy's lips to look at the teeth. Initially it may be helpful to have someone else hold him while you do this. Praise your puppy and reward him with a treat or a show of affection for cooperating. To teach the puppy to open his mouth for you, hold him with one hand and place your other hand over his muzzle with your thumb on one side and your forefinger on the other where the lips meet. Ask him to "Open" as you gently push your fingers into his mouth and lift up on the upper jaw. Go slowly and be lavish with your attention and rewards when he cooperates. Gradually progress from looking in his mouth to touching, brushing and cleaning the teeth.

Teaching your puppy to allow you to handle his mouth can help you with other necessary procedures as well. Proper training that teaches your puppy to allow you to handle his head and mouth will help make giving medicines easier, can make teaching the dog to release retrieval toys simpler and can help if you need to remove inappropriate objects from the dog's mouth.

In addition to training your puppy, starting dental hygiene early can help you diagnose developmental abnormalities that could lead to future problems. For example, baby teeth do not always fall out when they should. Occasionally a baby tooth will get stuck and the new, permanent tooth will not have room to grow in correctly. This can cause a maloclussion (incorrect tooth alignment) which can lead to tooth decay or, in serious cases, can cause the teeth to actually come in contact with the soft tissue of the mouth, inflicting pain every time the dog chews. Good dental hygiene habits can help you locate and treat these types of problems before they become severe.

While dogs rarely have cavities in their teeth, they are susceptible to decay, bad breath, gum disease, plaque accumulation and infection. Poor dental hygiene can also allow soft food particles to accumulate in and around the gum line at the base of the teeth. This can lead to gum infections which can soften the gums and cause them to recede. Receding gums can lead to tooth root exposure and, eventually, tooth loss. Brushing your dog's teeth once or twice a week with baking soda or canine toothpaste, feeding dry food, rewarding with hard biscuits and providing appropriate dental chew toys can help prevent or alleviate gum decay.

Another problem that can be addressed with preventive dental hygiene measures is tartar buildup. You can remove tartar by rubbing the teeth with a three-percent hydrogen peroxide solution, a one-percent hydrochloric acid solution or if your dog is well trained and cooperative, by gently and carefully scraping with a specially designed dental scraper.

Proper care of your dog's teeth will help ensure a long, healthy life for your pet. Your dog will utilize his food better if his teeth and gums are healthy and this can help him avoid nutritional deficiencies, especially later in life. He will also be less prone to other serious health problems such as heart valve disease, kidney disease and liver disease that can result from infected teeth and gums.


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Copyright Sandcastle Kennels 2004

Last revised: January 06, 2006