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Healthy Dogs

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Brushing Your Dog's Teeth: Why it Matters

WebMD Pet Health Feature
Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM

Have you brushed your dog's teeth today?

If the thought sounds a little nutty to you -- on par with giving your pup a pedicure, perhaps -- you might want to have a chat with your vet. She’ll  probably tell you that regular oral care for your pooch is just as important to its long-term well-being as it is to yours.

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Dogs are born to work for a living. They’ve worked alongside us for thousands of years, and most are bred for a particular purpose, like hunting, herding livestock or providing protection. Dogs’ wild relatives spend most of their waking hours scavenging and hunting for food, caring for offspring, defending territory and playing with each other. They lead busy, complex lives, interacting socially and solving simple problems necessary for their survival. The most common job for our companion...

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It's true that dogs went thousands of years without toothbrushes, oral cleanings, and dental X-rays, but so did people. And our mouths, just like those of our four-legged friends, suffered for it -- with gum disease, tooth loss, chronic pain, and more. Also, in those days, people and animals did not live as long as we do today.

Now most of us see the benefit of daily brushing, twice yearly cleanings, and regular dental X-rays for ourselves. And though dogs don't eat the wide range of cavity-causing foods we enjoy, they need regular dental care for many of the same reasons we do:

  • To prevent the build-up of plaque, tartar, and calculus
  • To check for and prevent gingivitis and gum disease
  • To look for trauma, such as broken or fractured teeth
  • To inspect for developmental or orthodontic problems


Protecting Your Dog From Pain

By the time they are 3 years old, most dogs already show signs of gum disease (also called periodontal disease). As a result, dogs may be at risk for some of the same problems that chronic infection can cause in people, including heart, liver, and kidney problems.

"Pets don't show pain from dental disease," says Tony M. Woodward, a veterinary dentist in Colorado. "When they're in pain I wish dogs would paw at their faces or stop eating, but they don't."

As a matter of fact, your dog can have a mouthful of abscessed teeth and still eat just fine, Woodward says.

"That's the main reason why people should care about dental problems in pets: It hurts them," he says.

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