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Dog Dentistry | Fall 2011 Out Here Magazine

Periodontal disease, unrecognized in pets until just a few years ago, can be avoided with regular brushing — just like humans.

Keeping those canines brushed is key to your pet's good health

By Carol Davis
Photography courtesy of Mars

Dental hygiene is as important for your dog as it is for you — not for whiter teeth and fresh breath, of course, but for your pet's overall, good health.

Like humans, pets are as susceptible to periodontal disease, an infection caused by bacteria that gets under and destroys the gums and, ultimately, bone. The bacteria can also spread through the body, damaging organs.

If your dog's breath has a foul odor over a period of time — more pungent than simple dog breath — then chances are he has gingivitis, the beginnings of periodontal disease, says Dr. Preston R. Buff, a senior scientist for The Nutro Co.

Preventive mouth care is key for pets, as with humans, says Buff, who recommends a routine oral exam by a vet twice per year.

Oral disease is one of the most common problems veterinarians see in their practice, Buff says; indeed, some 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats are infected by oral disease by age 3.

"About 12-15 years ago, you didn't hear much about it because it was an unrecognized disease in pets. Now, with more science and knowledge, its importance is coming to the forefront."

That's why routine maintenance is crucial in staving off plaque buildup and gingivitis.

"Ideally, you should do something pretty much every day. We recommend brushing your pet's teeth daily," Buff says. "After a thorough cleaning, plaque will begin to accumulate within 12 hours."

Brushing probably isn't as difficult as you might think. "One of the most important things is having a brush that is designed for pets. Dogs' and cats' mouths are smaller, so human toothbrushes are not appropriate," Buff says.

Use toothpaste designed for pets, not human toothpaste. "There are certain ingredients in human toothpaste that are harmful to pets if they consume them," Buff says.

Start by allowing the dog to taste the toothpaste on your finger. "Most toothpaste have a flavor that pets enjoy, so that helps," he says.

Try putting your finger into your dog's mouth and rubbing his teeth to acclimate him to the procedure.

Once he gets used to that, use a dog finger brush to clean his teeth by using a circular motion on the teeth and gums. You'll soon be able to graduate to a toothbrush, which provides a more thorough cleaning.

Always reward teeth cleaning with a treat, Buff says, such as a GREENIES® dental chew, a toothbrush-shaped dog treat produced by Nutro designed to reduce tooth plaque.

Carol Davis is editor of Out Here.