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Brushing Your Dog's Teeth: Why it Matters

8 Tips for Good Doggie Dental Care

  1. Get your dog regular exams and cleanings. Good oral care doesn't start and stop with tooth brushing. It should include regular dental exams, including X-rays and a professional cleaning under general anesthesia. "The goal is to maintain oral health, function of the teeth, and a pain-free state," says Colleen O'Morrow, DVM, a veterinary dentist in Manitoba, Canada.
  2. Start young. If you've got a puppy, now is the time to include brushing in his good-manners training. But have no fear, even pets in their teens can learn to love a good brushing -- if you take it slow. 
  3. Brush gradually and gently. Start by putting a little toothpaste on their brush and let your dog lick it off. Then try touching the toothbrush to your dog’s teeth. After that, brush for a few seconds. Take a month or two to introduce her to this new habit. When your dog is ready for a real brushing, raise her lips to expose teeth and gums. Then brush from the gum line to the tip of the tooth. Avoid opening your pet's mouth, which can lead to panic and struggling. 
  4. Use toothpaste made specifically for dogs. Toothpastes for humans contain certain types of fluorides and detergents that are meant to be spit out after you brush. Your dog will swallow toothpaste, so buy a product meant for pets. Pet toothpaste can come in a host of flavors, including poultry, beef, seafood, malt, peanut, and vanilla-mint. 
  5. Use a pet-specific toothbrush. The heads of brushes made for people are too wide for a pet's mouth, and even soft bristles are usually too hard. Talk to your veterinarian about the best toothbrush for your dog. Your vet may suggest a soft power brush. Or some vets suggest a finger brush that slips over your finger like a thimble. But avoid finger brushes if you have a small dog; your finger is just too big to be a comfortable fit for your pet's mouth. And if you have more than one pet, get each pet its own brush to avoid spreading germs. 
  6. Brush in back. For pets, dental problems are often most severe in the back, upper teeth. So it's most important to brush the outsides of the big teeth there, say the pros. 
  7. Chew on this. Dogs benefit greatly from chewing every day on something that helps keep teeth clean.
  8. Make tooth brushing fun and rewarding. Before and after brushing, praise, pet and play with your dog. "I like to combine brushing with a positive reinforcement," says Barry L. Rathfon, DVM, an Idaho veterinarian whose practice is limited to veterinary dentistry. One of the best reinforcements, he says, is to brush your pup's teeth just before a meal. To remind yourself, put your pet's toothbrush near his food supply.

It's true that some dogs just don't want to have their teeth brushed, and that's OK. But don't give up too soon. About 80% of dogs will allow you to brush their teeth, Woodward says, even older dogs. That's if you start gradually and make it fun.

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