Brushing Up on Dental Health
Help your puppy stay healthy by keeping his teeth in tip-top shape.
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Best Way to Brush
"It's important to get your puppy used to having his teeth brushed, and the earlier the better," says Brook Niemiec, D.V.M., Dipl. AVDC, a veterinary dentist at Southern California Veterinary Dental Specialties, California. "Clients bring in their 8-year-old dogs whose teeth are falling out, and ask, 'What can I do?' When I hand them a toothbrush, they laugh and say, 'No way will my dog allow me to do that!' They're probably right. But if they'd started brushing when their dogs were puppies, they wouldn't be having problems now."
Daily brushing is best, but at the least, clean your puppy's teeth two or three times a week. In the early stages, it's ok to simply rub the teeth with a soft cloth, gauze or a child's toothbrush. When nearly all the adult teeth have appeared, all the teeth should receive a regular brushing with canine toothpaste and a doggie toothbrush or fingertip brush. Never use human toothpaste or baking soda when brushing your puppy's teeth. These products are not meant to be swallowed and could cause your pup to become sick. Instead, use a toothpaste designed for dogs, which is safe and tastes good to your dog.
"You can start brushing when puppies are 2 to 3 months old," Niemiec says. "Make the experience positive. Start with just handling the outside of the mouth briefly. Then, get your fingers in the mouth, and even try to open it. Finally, introduce the brush. Link this behavior to positive things, such as walks and playtime, and especially food. This can either be dinner or a favorite treat. I brush my dog's teeth right before dinner, and she gets excited to see the toothbrush."
Ira Luskin, D.V.M., practices at the Animal Dental Center in Maryland. He also recommends playing with puppies' mouths several times a day, and including gum massage as part of the routine. Gum massage helps pups grow accustomed to having their mouths handled. "When you're finished, give your puppy a treat," Luskin advises.
Niemiec recommends brushing your pup's teeth in a circular motion, holding the brush at a 45-degree angle to the gumline. Use a small amount of doggie toothpaste, and replenish it often. "Brush all of your pet's teeth in succession," Niemiec says. "Open his mouth slightly by placing a finger between the jaws in the area just behind the upper canine tooth. The insides of the teeth are a little bit trickier. Many dogs won't accept brushing in this area. Most periodontal disease occurs on the outside surfaces of the teeth, though, so if you can't reach the inside areas, it's ok."
For some reason, though, the inside surfaces of the upper canines in small-breed dogs, especially Dachshunds, Yorkshire Terriers, Maltese and Poodles, are susceptible and can develop very bad periodontal disease in this area. "Brushing once a day would be ideal," Niemiec says, explaining that even brushing your pet's teeth once a week significantly reduces and prevents plaque buildup. "Brushing greatly improves periodontal health, but it does not completely eliminate the need for professional cleanings." Although your puppy won't need to have his teeth professionally cleaned, many adult dogs require frequent veterinary scalings—some more often than others, depending on the level of dental care the dog receives at home.
Next Step: Home Checkups
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