Brushing Up on Dental Health

Help your puppy stay healthy by keeping his teeth in tip-top shape.


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Warning Signs
What should I look for? "Generally, I find that owners are pretty good about catching tooth problems, because of their own experience with dentists. You need to use common sense," Dr. Luskin says. He explains that symptoms such as redness, swelling, pain or a bad smell are all warning signs of a dental problem.

Although it is unlikely for a puppy, "blood on the toothbrush means some periodontal disease is starting," Dr. Niemiec says. Of course, if your pup is losing its puppy teeth, a small amount of blood on the toothbrush may be normal. "If you see loose [adult] teeth, swellings or growths, broken teeth or anything else you don't like, it's time to visit your vet," Dr. Niemiec says.

Symptoms of dental problems may not always be obvious. Look for clues in your dog's general behavior, such as a change in head position, an off bite, dropping food, pawing at the mouth, difficulty chewing and an aversion to being patted on the head. If your puppy is usually comfortable with brushing and suddenly stops allowing it, your pup might be experiencing oral discomfort.

"Dogs will usually eat through pain, so there's seldom a loss of appetite," Dr. Niemiec explains. "Eighty percent of America's dogs [according to the AVDS] need dental attention [including home care, professional cleaning, root canals and extractions], but there are usually no obvious outward signs of this. So many owners have a hard time believing there's anything wrong. They'll insist that their dog is fine. But after dental surgery, they'll come back and say, 'I can't believe it! He's like a puppy again!'"

Dental problems can also cause a dog to behave differently if it is experiencing discomfort or pain. "Some owners will give up a dog or have it put down when the animal experiences a sudden personality change," Dr. Sitzman says. "They don't realize that the problem may simply be due to bad teeth. I saw a Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier whose owner complained that he tried to bite whenever he was patted. When I examined the dog, I found an incisor [tooth in the front of the mouth] sticking up and through the roof of the mouth."

Puppy teeth are often healthy, but sometimes problems do occur. "Puppies have fewer teeth than adult dogs, so there's usually not much tartar," says Kenneth Lyon, D.V.M., Dipl. AVDC, who practices veterinary dentistry at the Mesa Veterinary Hospital in Mesa, Arizona. "However, with longhaired breeds, the hair [can get in the mouth while eating and] will often wrap around the teeth, and act as a wick for bacteria buildup," Dr. Lyon says. "Puppy teeth are also smaller, sharper and more susceptible to fracture than [adult] dog teeth," he continues. "When a break occurs, pulp tissue [inner tissue of the tooth] is exposed, allowing bacteria to get in and cause root abscesses [pockets of infection] or damage to permanent teeth."

Next Step: When to See the Vet

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