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5 Puppy Dental Care Tips

 

There's so much to think about with a new puppy: feeding, training and building a bond. If your little one just has a mouthful of tiny teeth, you may not have even considered dental care (or perhaps just fleetingly when you glimpsed the newly gnawed-on sofa legs).

But just as it is for us humans, developing good oral hygiene early is a major step in safeguarding your pup from dental disease down the road.

Here are five things the two of you should do in his first year.

Image Credit: DCL

5: Make Mouth Handling a Routine

One of the first things you should do with your puppy is teach him that it's OK for people to handle his mouth and muzzle. This will help him tolerate future dental prevention and care.

You don't have to set aside a special time to do this. When he's snuggling in your lap, move his gums aside and peek at his pearly whites or rub a finger over his front teeth and gums. Rest your hands on his muzzle, one on top and the other below his jaw, and gently open his mouth. Talk cheerfully and offer lots of praise as you do these things. If he seems uneasy, share a special treat or pour on the affection.

If he's very uncomfortable with this handling, make it more appealing. Coat your finger with something special, like peanut butter or meat baby food, or dip it in chicken broth. He'll be happy to have your tasty finger move nearer to his mouth! Let him lick off the treat while you try to rub the outside of his lips, gums and teeth. Be careful to keep your finger just within licking range, not inside of his mouth. You don't want him to mistake it for a treat he can actually munch on!

Do these things daily until your puppy is confident with the handling.

Peeking inside that growing mouth is also important to check on his teething progress, which needs some assistance every now and then.

4: Monitor Dental Comings and Goings

That first year is a busy time in your puppy's mouth. If everything goes as expected, he has his first set of puppy teeth -- called deciduous teeth -- between 8 and 12 weeks old. These junior chompers soon fall out, making way for his adult ones. It varies by dog and by breed, but most canines sport 42 adult teeth by the time they're 7 to 8 months old.

Keep watch on all this oral activity, though, because sometimes things don't go as planned. For example, the first teeth may fail to erupt. If you're getting ready to celebrate his 12-week birthday and he's still mainly gums, check with the vet, who'll run some X-rays to find those missing choppers. The doc may need to work with the tissue over the problem areas to help convince things to move along. This condition tends to occur more often in small or toy breeds.

Other times, the deciduous teeth don't fall out in time. If two teeth are right on top of each other, consult your vet. Left alone, this could leave your pup with a crooked adult tooth, potentially causing bite problems or gum irritation.

With all this coming and going, your puppy's gums will be sore, causing him to nibble on everything. Read on for ways to keep his mouth -- and your household -- safe from inappropriate chewing.

3: Teach Him What to Chew On

Puppies wouldn't be puppies if they weren't trying to get their mouths on everything! This normal pastime provides some relief from teething pain and pressure, and satisfies his curiosity about all the new things in his world.

Your puppy doesn't care what he gets his mouth on, so it's up to you to direct him. Household objects are an obvious no-no; in addition to property damage, he could break a tooth by chomping down on something too hard. Even though the first set is just temporary, a broken deciduous tooth introduces problems and warrants a trip to the vet.

Keep his chewing safe by offering a variety of chew toys, including some that are specifically made for teething. A chew toy should be hard but not rock solid; it should have some flexibility and give to the surface. If you can't dent a toy with your fingernail, it's probably too hard for your puppy.

Puppies frequently insist on chomping on something they shouldn't. Perhaps the cool, metal rails of your desk chair are just right for his sore gums. If he seems to be seeking relief for mouth pain, try freezing a rolled-up wet towel or rope toy and offering that. If you can't discourage him from your desk chair -- or other off-limits objects -- buy a bitter-tasting deterrent at your pet store. Applying it to the desired object will safeguard his mouth and your household.

While you don't want your puppy chewing the wrong things, you do want to encourage some healthy gnawing. Find out why next.

2: Feed Him a Dental-friendly Diet

With all the growing he's doing, your pup needs a high-quality diet to develop strong, healthy bones and teeth. Feed him the best quality puppy food you can comfortably afford, and consider your dog's dental health when you plan his daily diet.

Dry kibble is a good choice for oral health. Crunching on it helps to scrape food and bacteria off the surface of the teeth, minimizing the opportunities for plaque to develop. Wet, canned food is more likely to get trapped in crevices. But you don't have to feed only kibble if your little one prefers canned food. Alternate at each meal or add a spoonful of wet food to his bowl of kibble.

You'll probably be giving out lots of treats as you teach your new arrival all about being a good dog. Sneak in some teeth-cleansing benefits by choosing treats approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). The group's seal of approval indicates that the item has been evaluated and meets the protocols established to be considered a dentally beneficial food.

As your puppy gets older and has more teeth to work with, he'll enjoy gnawing on edible chew treats, such as bully sticks or knucklebones. Enjoying a nice, long chomp on these items can help scrape away food and buildup. But before you begin giving him these longer-lasting, edible chews, ask your vet if your puppy is ready and what type he or she recommends.

Whether your pooch has his full set of adult choppers or he's still working on it, it's never too early to get serious about daily dental care.

1: Build in That Nightly Brushing

It's hard to imagine that your puppy's shiny, new teeth may soon be dotted with brown tartar. But without regular brushing, tartar affects most adult dogs, leading to gingivitis and periodontal disease.

Get a head start in fending off these preventable problems. Once he's comfortable with mouth and muzzle handling, start making regular toothbrushing a habit. Veterinarians recommend doing it daily if possible or at least several times a week.

Start very simply by showing your pup the toothbrush and canine-specific toothpaste for him to lick and sniff. Gently approach his mouth to brush one or two teeth and gums, using a circular motion. Don't worry about getting a lot done. Right now, you just want to build up his comfort with the experience.

Brush at the same time each day so he'll come to expect it. Choose a relaxed time, such as early evening. He may wind up thinking the toothpaste is part of his nighttime treat!

As dogs continue to lead longer and healthier lives, veterinarians point to preventive dental care as a key factor in their prolonged health. Use your puppy's first year to establish good habits to last a lifetime!

 

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