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DENTAL CARE FOR YOUR DOG

Putting a price on your dog's teeth would be a tough task. He needs his teeth to eat, to protect and to express himself. It's important to keep the teeth he's got in good shape.

Brushing

Your dog probably won't open his mouth and stand patiently while you brush away at his teeth, especially the first time you try.

Start by getting your dog used to having his mouth handled. Gently massage his lips with your finger in a circular motion for 30 to 60 seconds once or twice a day. Gradually move your fingers into his mouth until you can massage his gums and teeth. This adjustment may take several weeks, so be patient.

Once he's comfortable with this routine, you can introduce a toothbrush. A soft child's toothbrush, a dog's toothbrush or even a washcloth or piece of gauze will work. Use a toothpaste developed specifically for dogs, which your dog may really like.

Never use human toothpaste - dogs can't spit the toothpaste out and it will upset your dog's stomach if he swallows it. You may only be able to brush a few teeth a first. However, with patience and time, eventually your dog should be okay with your brushing all of his teeth in one sitting.

Focus brushing on the outer tooth surfaces, as that is where most of the tartar buildup will be.

Daily brushing is ideal if you can find the time, but once or twice weekly will still keep you ahead of the game.

If your dog refuses to "open wide" every time you try to brush his teeth, consider using specially formulated dental diets or treats, enzyme-enhanced chews or dental toys to help keep tartar and gingivitis at bay. And try getting him used to brushing, perhaps with the assistance of an animal behaviorist, at a later date.

Teeth Cleaning

Your pet may hate dental visits, but he still needs professional dental care. And if your pet's breath smells awful, get him in to see the veterinarian right away. Bad breath is one sign of dental disease. If unchecked, tartar buildup and gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease and tooth loss.

General anesthesia may be necessary for your vet to clean your dog's teeth, polish and treat them with fluoride, if necessary, which will limit new plaque formation. If your veterinarian has to use anesthesia, he or she may examine your pet first and recommend blood work to identify potential problems and reduce the risks associated with using anesthesia. After all, your pooch probably won't hold open his mouth and say "ahhh" for the veterinarian any better than he will for you. If the exam reveals dental disease, your veterinarian may take X-rays to determine the severity and the best course of action.

Just like your dentist, veterinarians use special instruments and ultrasonic scalers to remove plaque and tartar. If your pet has any fractured or damaged teeth, he or she may refer your dog to a veterinary dental specialist. Severely diseased or damaged teeth must often be extracted.

Depending on your dog's age and the severity of gum disease, if present, he may need antibiotic treatment to heal his gums and to prevent infection from spreading to his internal organs.

If your veterinarian performs extensive dental work, you may need to leave your pet overnight for observation and recovery. Your dog may also need pain medication for a few days since dental work can hurt!

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