Humans aren't the only mammals that need to brush their teeth to maintain their oral health. Dogs are at risk for developing many of the same oral diseases, such as plaque and tartar, that can develop in the human mouth as a result of neglected dental hygiene. Tartar causes gingivitis, an inflammation that hurts your dog's gums and eventually progresses to irreversible periodontal disease. At this stage, bacteria growth may be so rampant that it spreads beyond your dog's mouth and into his vital organs via the bloodstream, causing critical -- and often irreparable -- damage.
However, the good news is that with a little home oral care provided by you, plaque build-up can be controlled and reduced before it ever has a chance to cause severe health problems in your pooch. Just follow these simple steps to cleaning your dog's pearly whites:
1. Only use toothpaste sold specifically for dogs. Dogs can't spit and will happily swallow any gunk squirted into their mouths, so never use human toothpaste; it isn't edible for dogs or humans (as many have figured out the hard way).
2. Depending on which tool is the easiest for you to work with, brush your dog's teeth with either a regular human toothbrush, fingerbrush, or a piece of gauze wrapped around your finger. This may take a few sessions of experimenting.
3. Get situated in a position where you can comfortably grasp your dog's muzzle and lift his lips away from the teeth. You'll probably find this step to be tricky on your first attempt, but after several sessions of cleaning your dog's teeth, he'll become more accustomed to how this feels. If you've never done this before, a second human helper can help by either separating your dog's teeth or by soothing him with gentle petting.
4. If you've been to the dentist recently, this one should sound familiar: brush in a circular motion. Be sure that you brush each tooth with several circular revolutions.
5. Thoroughly brush along the gumline; this is the area where the dog's teeth appear to "meet" the gums. This step is necessary to dislodge bacteria that can collect in this region and lead to periodontal disease.
6. Finally, don't forget to brush your dog's back teeth, as these are the teeth and gums on which veterinarians tend to spot the most serious oral health problems.
- Remember to brush your dog's teeth on a regular basis -- at least twice per week -- and to have his teeth evaluated by a veterinarian once every year.
- If unmistakable tartar is already deposited on your dog's teeth, it may need to be removed by a veterinarian through a procedure called scaling.
- Feed your dog a brand of dry dog food and toss him the occasional hard dog biscuit or bone. This will help dislodge stubborn plaque anytime he engages in one of his favorite activities: eating!