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ways to keep your dog out of the dentist's chair and what to do if he ends up there

You may have heard the saying that a dog's mouth is like her hands. She uses them to explore, touch, hold, and carry things in addition to its digestive functions. On top of all of those tasks, a dog's mouth is a natural first aid kit. Her saliva is infused with antibacterial properties, which is often why dogs lick cuts and scrapes.

Now think of your hands. With all of the exploration, touching, holding, and carrying they do, would you go a day without washing them? Of course not! But many dog moms and dads have the same dental care habits for their dogs as they do for their own flossing - they do it a few times a year, tops, then on an honest face and swear to a regular schedule.

Swear no more! Keep reading to get acquainted with your pooch's chompers and understand why it is so vital to keep a regular cleaning schedule.

How many teeth does my dog have?

If she has them all and is fully grown, 42. Adult dogs have 20 teeth in their upper jaw and 22 in the lower one. Babies are born without teeth (you can breathe a sigh of relief on behalf of all of the mommy dogs out there), but grow a total of 28 baby teeth by about eight weeks and start to lose them by 13 weeks.

How am I supposed to know if something is wrong with my dog's teeth? She can't talk, you know.

Here's where you get down and dirty. Your dog should be accustomed to letting you touch and examine her body. If not, start by having her sit and running your hands over her back, legs, belly, tail, and head. Lift her paws and examine them, then do the same with her ears. Once she is used to you performing these impromptu exams, try looking at her mouth. Hold her lower jaw with one hand and use it to pull her lower lip below the gum line. Lift her upper lip with your other hand and check both her teeth and gums for discoloration, cracks, tenderness, and tartar.

Fun fact: The roots of Fifi's teeth are longer than the teeth themselves to hold them securely in place.

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Other Signs Something May be Wrong

They may not speak, but dogs often plenty of warning if something isn't

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working or Teenng quite the way they think it should. Pay close attention to your dog's body language and actions. If she's doing any of the following, she may not be in top dental health:

• Halitosis (nastier breath than usual)

• Extreme drooling

• Trouble swallowing

• Chattering teeth

• Hesitation to eat

If w

• Tilting her head while eating

• Pawing at her mouth

sticking to a good dental regimen for a week. If she's still having trouble, get her

Now put on your Bravery Hat and use the thumb of your bottom hand and forefinger of your top hand to open her mouth. Check that her tongue is a healthy pink color without cuts or irritation, the inner edges of teeth and gums according to the list above, and that the roof of her mouth is free of discoloration or inflammation. Take a quick whiff of her breath. If it smells odd or extremely bad -let's remember that she's a dog and that it's difficult to have minty-fresh breath whilst sniffing fellow dogs' rear-ends - contact your veterinarian.

Gee, there's that go-getter spirit! This is easiest if you start when your dog is a puppy by letting her hold a toothbrush in her mouth, then working up to actually brushing her teeth. If she's beyond puppy status, try having a partner hold her while you brush a few teeth at a time and subsequently reward her. While it's all right to use a people toothbrush, use only toothpaste approved for dogs or a simple salt water solution. Regular toothpaste includes too many detergents and fluoride, which can be harmful to dogs.

Many pet stores now carry full dental care kits, which include toothpaste in flavors more in line with doggie taste buds, a toothbrush, gum massager, and hints for easier brushing.

The easiest way to supplement weekly brushings? Bones and toys meant to stimulate the teeth and gums. These help reduce tartar and plaque, give your dog's jaws a workout, and get the blood flowing to the gums. Don't let them chew longer than 15 minutes, though, and make sure the bones are hard enough not to splinter and cause problems with digestion.

Good dental hygiene is important to the overall health of your dog. While you can use a regular toothbrush for your dog, find a dog-specific toothpaste to avoid illness.

Can my dog get cavities?

Of course, but not for the same reasons you get cavities. You get them because you won't stop eating those chocolate bars before bed, and it's the same reason you keep breaking out! When will you listen to your mother?

Cavities are pretty rare in dogs and don't come from eating too much sugar or not brushing their teeth before bed. But if one happens to work its way into your buddy's mouth, she'll have to have it filled using almost exactly the same materials and equipment the dentist used to fill your last cavity.

How do dogs break their teeth and what can I do to stop it from happening?

Dogs love to chew hard objects. Bones, wood, furniture, stones - it doesn't matter, they all make your pooch equally delighted. Unfortunately, she may be so delighted that she doesn't realize when she's broken a tooth from overzealous gnawing. If you notice a crack or chip in one of her teeth, take a closer look. Simply breaking the enamel of the tooth won't cause any major problems and can be left alone.

But if the break goes deeper into the pulp of the tooth where nerves and blood are stored, she'll end up in a fair amount of pain. If the break is, in fact, deep enough that the inner portions of the tooth are exposed, she may require a root canal or extraction.

To help prevent such major breaks, stick with dental toys or hard plastic bones. If you can't bear the thought of depriving your dog the pleasure of a real bone, keep the chewing sessions to 10 minutes or less and never play catch with a bone.

What else can happen to my dog's teeth, mouth, or throat, and what can I do about it? Just as in their human moms and dads, dogs' mouths and throats can go through painful viral or other infections that can be difficult to pinpoint and treat. The chart above lists some of the more common problems and what your vet may prescribe for treatment.

Helpful hint: Nasty breath keeping you from accepting your canine's kisses? Many pet stores and websites now offer doggie breath mints, breath strips, and even natural breath enhancers in pill form to make your baby's breath as sweet as her personality.

Condition

Possible Treatment

Abscessed tooth

Extraction or root canal

Mouth infection

Typically antibiotics.

Cuts and burns

Rinse with cool water, contact vet.

Sore throat

Typically antibiotics.

Slack jaw

Diseased teeth removed. Lower jaw stabilized.

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