Poor dental hygiene can lead to serious problems for your dog, since poor dental health can cause and exacerbate conditions such as heart disease and kidney failure. Eighty percent of dogs develop dental disease before they are 3 years old, making caring for your puppy’s teeth crucial for protecting their overall health. Our team at Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital wants to provide tips to help you keep your puppy’s teeth in tip top shape.

#1: Handle your puppy’s mouth daily

Teach your puppy that handling their mouth is a normal occurrence. Take time every day to lift up their lips, rub your finger over their teeth, and gently open their mouth. Praise your puppy during this activity, and offer a high value treat when you are finished. If they are initially hesitant, try coating your finger in peanut butter until they are more at ease with the process.

#2: Inspect your puppy’s mouth for normal tooth emergence

From birth to 6 months, puppies’ teeth erupt from their gums, a process called teething—which is why puppies are so prone to chew on everything. Knowing the normal timeline for your puppy’s teething process can help ensure no problems affect their mouth during this development stage. The normal teething timeline is:

  • Birth to 2 weeks — No teeth are present
  • Weeks 2 to 4 — Incisors emerge, followed by premolars, molars, and canines.
  • Weeks 5 to 8 — All 28 baby teeth should be present. At about 8 weeks, baby teeth begin falling out.
  • Weeks 12 to 16 — Adult teeth start to come in, pushing baby teeth out.
  • 6 months — All 42 permanent teeth should be in place.

Once your puppy allows you to comfortably open their mouth, look for abnormalities. If your puppy’s adult teeth do not erupt, X-rays may be necessary to locate the missing teeth. Facial swelling, changes in eating habits, or rubbing at their face are red flags that they could have a dental problem. Also, look for two teeth occupying the same spot, blood and tartar formation on their teeth, swollen gums, and broken teeth. If you observe any of these signs, your puppy will need an evaluation by our veterinary professionals at Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital, an American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited practice.

Most pets with dental problems show no obvious signs, which makes regular dental care and evaluations critical. Check out this video from Dr. Man to learn how to recognize dental disease in your pet.

#3: Provide safe chew toys for your puppy

Chewing helps relieve the pain caused by your puppy’s teething, and also helps them explore their world. Provide several chew toy options. Ensure the toys are not soft enough to tear apart and cause a choking hazard. The toys should also not be so hard that they can cause your puppy to break a tooth, but should be flexible enough for you to dent the surface with your fingernail. Toys are also available that are specifically designed for teething puppies, to soothe their painful mouths. Mildly abrasive toys can help control plaque. 

#4: Start brushing your puppy’s teeth

Getting your puppy used to having their teeth brushed when they are young will prevent struggles when they are older. Start as soon as your puppy is comfortable with you handling their mouth. Never use human toothpaste to brush your puppy’s teeth, because puppies usually swallow the foam, and the fluoride is toxic if ingested in large enough amounts. Meat-flavored toothpastes specifically for dogs are available. To brush your puppy’s teeth, follow these steps:

  • Open your puppy’s mouth — Use a chew toy to prop open your puppy’s mouth. This will give you access to their mouth, and give your puppy something to focus on during the procedure. Practice several times, praising your puppy, and giving them meat toothpaste as a treat. Do not introduce a toothbrush until they seem comfortable with this step.
  • Use an appropriate toothbrush — Use a special pet toothbrush or a soft child’s toothbrush, which will fit better in your puppy’s small mouth. Some puppies prefer your finger to brush their teeth, or you can wrap a wet cloth around your finger. Scrub the outside surfaces of your puppy’s teeth with your chosen implement.
  • Brush frequently — Brushing your puppy’s teeth after every meal is ideal, but brushing at least three times a week is a good place to start.

In addition to regular brushing, your puppy will need annual dental cleanings to stave off periodontal disease. While some people may try to convince you that an anesthesia-free dental cleaning will improve your pet’s dental health, only dental X-rays and a professional cleaning under anesthesia can effectively prevent dental disease. Check out this video from Dr. Man, which explains why anesthesia-free dental cleanings are ineffective and dangerous for your pet.

#5: Consider your puppy’s dental health when choosing a diet plan

Crunching on dry kibble helps scrape food and bacteria off the teeth surface, and reduces dental problems by about 10 percent. Wet food is more likely to get stuck in the gumline and attract bacteria. Offer treats, such as raw carrots or apple slices, that help clean your puppy’s teeth. You can also give them treats sanctioned by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), whose approval indicates that the product has been evaluated, and meets the protocols established for dentally beneficial food. 

Establishing a dental hygiene regimen when your puppy is young is the best way to maintain their dental health as they get older. If you would like to have your puppy’s dental health evaluated, do not hesitate to contact our Fear Free team at Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment.