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  • By Lisa Jevens

Managing Your Dog's Dental Care

It may come as a shock to many dog owners that they should be brushing their dog's teeth, but it's true.

Contrary to popular belief, your dog's mouth is not "cleaner than a human's," nor is it maintenance-free. That's because dogs build up plaque and tartar on their teeth just as humans do, which often leads to periodontal (gum) disease.

Periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition occurring in adult dogs and cats, and is entirely preventable, according to the American Veterinary Dental College.

Brushing your dog's teeth

"Eighty percent of dogs over three years of age have some sort of periodontal disease," says. Dr. Cindy Charlier, DVM, DAVDC, of Fox Valley Veterinary Dentistry in Chicago and St. Charles. "Most pet owners aren't aware of the importance of oral health in their dogs and their cats."

Charlier says small-breed dogs and greyhounds are particularly prone to periodontal disease, and many large-breed dogs also have fractured teeth.

Unfortunately, poor oral hygiene in dogs has the same effects as it does in humans: bad breath, tooth loss, pain and infection that can enter the bloodstream and spread to other bodily organs.

How do you know if your dog is having problems with its teeth and gums?

The American Veterinary Dental College says look out for the following:

  • Bad breath

  • Loose teeth or teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar

  • Your pet shying away from you when you touch the mouth area

  • Drooling or dropping food from the mouth

  • Bleeding from the mouth

Charlier also says to watch for blood on their chew toys, difficulty eating hard food, and swelling in their face.

"Dogs do everything they can to hide oral pain, because they do not want to appear weak and go to the bottom of the pack," Charlier says.

If you suspect your dog is having problems with his teeth or gums, don't wait. See your vet immediately. He or she may recommend a dentistry procedure at the veterinary hospital, or they may refer you to a canine dental specialist. Dentistry procedures for dogs and cats require that your pet be under general anesthesia.

To avoid costly trips to the doggie dentist — and suffering for your dog — purchase a toothbrush and toothpaste made for dogs and use it once a day.

"Brush the outside surfaces of the teeth, just like you brush your own teeth," Charlier says. "It doesn't take very long, less than a couple of minutes. Do it in the same place in the house, at the same time of day to get your pet used to the routine. Start slowly to get your dog used to having it done. Use lots of praise and positive reinforcement. "

It's best to start tooth brushing at six months of age, when your puppy has its permanent teeth.

"You can train your dog to have its teeth brushed like you train it to do anything else," Charlier adds.

Another advantage of daily brushing is that you are looking in your dog's mouth every day, so you're more likely to notice changes when they occur, such as fractured teeth and oral tumors.

It is also important to pay attention to what your dog chews on.

Do not give your dog anything to chew that is harder than a tooth. "If you cannot bend it or compress it, don't give it to your dog," Charlier says.

The Veterinary Oral Health College has a list of approved food, chews and treats on its website,, which are designed to help reduce plaque and tartar on your dog's teeth.

Originally published in the Chicago Tribune "From House to Home" section, and on on February 22, 2015.

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