Just like humans, dogs can get cavities if their teeth are not properly taken care of. Cavities are not as common in dogs as they are in humans; however there are some things which can increase the likelihood of your dog developing tooth problems. If you live in an area with hard water, it is more likely that your dog's teeth will develop tartar deposits. Additionally, tooth problems are more likely if your dog eats mostly soft foods, because these leave debris in gum pockets at the base of the teeth, leading to infections. These not only cause problems for your dog's teeth - studies show that a whopping 98% of cases of bad breath in dogs are caused by periodontal disease, which is the result of tartar build-up and gum infections.
The best way of preventing these problems is with regular brushing of your dog's teeth. Even if you have a great relationship with your dog, staring into its mouth and seeing rows of shining, sharp dog teeth can be intimidating. But by gradually getting your dog used to the idea of having you handling his mouth, you'll be able to clean his teeth and take care of his mouth without too many problems. If you have a young dog, it is much easier to get started. Even if your dog is a few years old you can still get him used to the idea, but you may find that it takes a bit longer before your dog is willing to let you brush his teeth. To get your dog used to having his mouth handled, start by lifting his lips and looking at his teeth - do this two or three times a week, and each time, give him a small treat after you have finished.
This will help both you and your dog relax when you are handling his mouth, and your dog will be more comfortable with the process when he knows there will be a treat when it's over. Once your dog is used to having his mouth handled, it's time to start brushing. There are a few simple items you will need to brush your dog's teeth, which you can obtain from a pet store or from your veterinarian. You'll need a dog tooth brush (a wash cloth or gauze pad wrapped around your finger also works well), and tooth paste which has been formulated for animal use. Human tooth paste should not be used for brushing dog teeth, because dogs cannot spit, and human tooth paste is not safe to swallow in large quantities. Your dog will most likely swallow whatever you use to clean his teeth, so it is important to buy tooth paste which has been formulated specifically for dogs.
In addition, dog tooth pastes come in several different flavors, so if you can find a flavor your dog likes, it will be that much easier to brush his teeth. Once you have the right tools, brushing dog teeth is pretty similar to brushing your own. If you have a large dog, the easiest position is on the floor, with your dog in front of you. With smaller breeds or puppies, you can hold the dog in your lap. To start brushing, lift your dog's upper lip and brush the teeth in a circular motion, making sure to brush at the base of each tooth where it meets the gum line. Also make sure to brush the back molars, because these teeth are more likely than the front teeth to develop problems.
To get your dog used to having his teeth brushed, do only one or two teeth the first few times. As he becomes more comfortable with brushing, you can brush more teeth in each session. Always give your dog a small treat after each session. Brushing should be done twice a week.
If your dog's teeth have a lot of tartar build-up they'll need to be cleaned by your vet - this is a fairly quick procedure but it does require anesthesia. In addition to regular brushing, feeding your dog dry dog food or hard biscuits every day is the best way of preventing tartar build-up. Soft foods and meat should be given as treat foods only.
As well as this, provide your dog with bones or hard toys to chew on - this will help keep their teeth and gums in good condition and it will also reduce the risk of your dog chewing on furniture or destroying your property. If you give your dog bones, do not cook them. Cooked bones can splinter, and these splinters can cause your dog to choke, or if swallowed they can perforate the bowel. Choose a bone based on the size of your dog - make sure you get a large bone if your dog is a large breed, so that there is no possibility of swallowing it. With a little care and attention, you can help keep your dog's teeth in tip-top condition for years to come.
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