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The importance of dental care: eighty percent of dogs show signs of periodontal disease, so owner participation and home-care is key.

An increased focus on dental care is developing among veterinarians, according to Jennifer Rawlinson, DVM, chief of the dentistry and oral surgery section at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine. Thanks in part to new advances and concepts adapted from human dentistry and modified for animals, veterinary dental care no longer ranks as one of the most commonly ignored areas of pet health care.

The bottom line is that veterinarians can't provide excellent dental care without help from pet owners. If you aren't already paying attention to your dog's mouth on a daily basis, it's time to start. "Your dog's general health and comfort truly depend on it," says Dr. Rawlinson, who is board-certified by the American Veterinary Dental College.

A Surprising Statistic. While we would not wish pain on our dogs--or other serious health problems that may stem from dental neglect, such as heart, lung and kidney disease--about two-thirds of us currently overlook the dental care recommended as essential by veterinarians. The result is that 80 percent of dogs show signs of periodontal disease--a progressive infection of tissue surrounding the teeth--by the ripe age of three years, the American Veterinary Dental Society reports.

"The further you go between brushings, the less effect you have," Dr. Rawlinson says. Plaque, a bacterial film that leads to the formation of a hard substance called tartar, can start to form on teeth after three days. If you go a week without brushing your dog's teeth, you are not effectively maintaining your pet's dental health, she adds.

Seek Professional Help. Before you bring out the doggie toothbrush, however, a professional veterinary dental exam (which should be performed yearly) and, if needed, a dental cleaning are in order. Brushing the teeth of a dog with gum disease or tooth fractures will likely hurt your pet; you don't want your dog to associate brushing with pain. When you get the healthy green light, let the brushing begin. If you're a novice, ask your veterinarian to demonstrate the procedure. Here are some expert tips to help make the job easier.

Make Brushing a Good Thing. The idea best thing is to start slowly, according to Dr. Rawlingson. First, simply let your dog get used to you gently touching his face. (Caution: If your dog displays any aggressive tendencies or tries to nip or bite you, stop immediately and consult your veterinarian.) Don't proceed to the next step until your dog appears comfortable with having his mouth handled.

"Do this by touching the lips and giving small treats. Repeat this step until your dog is comfortable and happy. Then lift the lip, touch the gums and reward your pet with praise or a treat. Repeat again until your dog relaxes," Dr. Rawlinson advises.

Next, rub the teeth with a piece of gauze or a finger toothbrush, which can be dipped in chicken or beef broth to help your pet adjust to the texture. Reward frequently, and do this at a time when the dog is relaxed. Frequent, very short sessions of less than one minute are best.

When you are ready to brush, soft bristles are the key, whether you choose a dualended pet toothbrush with angled bristles that make canine teeth easier to reach, or a very soft-bristled toothbrush designed for pediatric use, Dr. Rawlinson advises. Always use toothpaste created for pets, however, and be sure to rinse the brush after each brushing, she adds.

"Trying to open your dog's mouth too wide is the biggest mistake people make," she cautions. As you begin brushing, the jaw can be held nearly closed. Hold the bristles at roughly a 45-degree angle to the outer surface of the teeth and gum line and gently brush the area in a circular motion.


Pay special attention to your dog's back teeth, as premolars and molars accumulate plaque and tartar more quickly. Note: The process should take no longer than a minute or two.

The length of time it takes your pet to adjust to brushing depends on the individual animal. "For example, orally fixated dogs, such as Labrador Retrievers, usually enjoy having their teeth brushed," Dr. Rawlinson says. (One trick she uses for dogs who love to carry balls: Brush your dog's teeth while she holds a ball in her mouth.) Others may take a little more convincing and a more gradual adjustment.

"Stop any session before the animal gets bored or frustrated," Dr. Rawlinson adds. "Alternate the process with petting or other rewarding activities."

When You Can't Brush. While it's best to brush, veterinarians know that brushing is not an option for some dogs and their owners. What to do? "It is all about the mechanical or physical removal of plaque through chewing," Dr. Rawlinson says. ''Soft food is the number-one villain when it comes to dental disease."

Plaque can be mechanically removed through the use of special, dry dental-diet foods, which may also contain an enzymatic coating for dental defense. "The combination of a dry-food diet plus two to four hard biscuits covered with hexametaphosphate and a dental chew on a daily basis can significantly reduce the accumulation of plaque and tartar," Dr. Rawlinson notes.

Consult your veterinarian for help in choosing the best diet for your pet. Dogs love chew toys and treats, so it's no surprise that a number of dental products on the market address this option to help remove plaque. Dental biscuits, chews and toys are available through your veterinarian and pet supply stores.

You can even offer your dog a dental chew toy after she eats to help remove plaque and food debris from her teeth, Dr. Rawlinson suggests. For safety's sake, always supervise your pet when she chews a treat or toy, she adds.
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Title Annotation:HEALTH
Publication:Dog Watch
Date:Aug 1, 2011
Previous Article:Animal welfare and veterinarians.
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