How to check if a dog's teeth and gums are healthy

People usually know how important oral hygiene is for themselves, but often forget that their dogs' teeth are just as important and need the same kind of care. In fact, paying attention to your pet's teeth is arguably more important, because dogs who are experiencing toothaches and discomfort usually don't show any signs that there's anything wrong. This means you have be particularly diligent about checking your canine's teeth to make sure they're not suffering in silence.

And beyond that, your should make sure your dog's teeth are checked by a licensed veterinarian at least once a year after all his adult teeth come in (at around 7 months) to ensure there isn't anything wrong that you might have missed.

So how exactly do you check to see if there's something wrong with your dog's oral health? It really isn't that difficult to maintain as long as you keep it a habit.

Smell your dog's breath

Contrary to what some people believe, dog's are not supposed to have bad breath. I'm always amazed at how my dog can wake up in the morning, kiss my face, and not have even a hint of morning breath (that sadly, I have in the morning). I have always been very diligent about keeping his teeth and gums clean, and periodically checked. However, one day I got a whiff of a sour smell that wasn't quite so pleasant.

A trip to a vet was in order, and sure enough, the doctor said that there was a hint of gingivitis below the gum line under one of his back teeth that is near impossible for dog owners to catch or treat themselves. But thankfully we caught it early and he didn't need to lose any teeth. A thorough teeth-cleaning by the doctor and he was back in tip top shape again. So don't underestimate the importance of what your dog's breath may be telling you!

Check the color of your dog's gums, teeth and tongue

I always insist that dog owners make sure their dogs are comfortable with them handling their paws, ears and the insides of their mouths as early on as possible. This ensures the dog trusts you to manipulate these areas without causing them harm, as well as making sure you are familiar with the normal condition of their bodies so you know immediately if something has changed or is off. This also makes it easier for you to check these areas without any resistance or hostility from particularly antsy pets.

To check your dog's gums, lift his lips and inspect the color. A healthy dog's gums should be pink (ranging from light pink to dark pink), and they should not look white, grey, or red and inflamed. This goes for the tongue as well. Teeth should also be a white or off-white color, similar to a health person's teeth, without any brown or yellow tartar and plaque on them.

Feel around your dog's gums to make sure there aren't any growths, lumps or bumps along his gums and tongue, and that while doing so your pet isn't experiencing any discomfort. The inside of your dog's mouth should be wet and easy for your finger to move around in. If it feels sticky or dry, your dog might be sick.

An easy test to make sure the gums are healthy are also to gently press down on them. In a healthy dog, the gums should lighten to a pale color from the pressure, but quickly return to its healthy pink color. If your dog's gums don't do that, or take more than a couple of seconds to return to a pink color, this is an indication of an illness or some other ailment that requires the help of a doctor.

So how do you keep your dog's mouth healthy?

By regularly brushing his teeth, of course! If you don't know how, refer to this post on how to brush your dog's teeth properly, or ask your local vet for advice.

Between brushings and cleanings, make sure your dog also has plenty of non-toxic chew toys to chomp on. This helps scrape away any soft tartar before they can become hard plaque on his teeth, and encourages the production of saliva to break down any food and other bacteria in his mouth. Allowing your dog toys to chew on also helps prevent him from chewing on your shoes and furniture instead!

And like I've mentioned many times before, the clear sign that your dog is not well is when he stops taking food and water, and you had better get him to the vet straight away.

Wishing your pet (and you) good oral health!

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