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Most dog owners take excellent care of their four-legged friends, but oral hygiene is still often a neglected part of their pet’s care. From bad breath to canine periodontal disease, there are dozens of reasons to consider your dog’s oral hygiene an essential part of your responsibilities as a dog owner. Let’s take a look at some of the most important things you can do to take care of your dog’s teeth to prevent painful tooth loss, stop degenerative dental disease and keep your dog’s smile white and bright.

1. Brush Their Teeth

Just as plaque accumulates on your own teeth and gums, your dog’s mouth is susceptible to plaque and tartar buildup, too. Though your dog may not be too excited about getting his or her teeth brushed, it’s important to remove some of the bacteria and buildup that collects in the mouth through all the chewing, licking, eating and snacking these canines do. Grab a dog toothbrush and toothpaste, whether it’s an all-natural and fluoride free toothpaste variety or a cavity-fighting, chicken-flavored toothpaste, and try to brush your dog’s teeth at least a few times per week to start.

Brushing your dog’s teeth is a routine that will take some time to establish, but if you’ve become accustomed to brushing their fur or clipping their nails on your own, you can use some of the same calming tactics to get them used to the new practice. Create a peaceful environment, start small and give your dog plenty of positive reinforcement so that they associate the new ritual with good things. While you’re there, take time to inspect their teeth and gums for anything that looks unusual and take your concerns to a veterinarian if necessary.

2. Give Them Dental Treats

Most dogs are excited at the prospect of getting a treat, and dental treats are an excellent way to do double duty with the care and training of your furry friend. Dental treats are made with ingredients that are designed to clear plaque and buildup and freshen your dog’s breath at the same time. If your dog doesn’t take to the first dental treat you try, there are a host of options to choose from until you can find one they enjoy.

3. Use Tooth Wipes

Some dogs won’t allow their teeth to be brushed for a number of reasons, so tooth wipes intended for dogs are a great alternative. As well, these wipes can be used on other dogs between brushings to remove buildup. However, these wipes are best at removing plaque located on the flat surfaces of your dog’s teeth, but they don’t do a great job at dislodging the plaque that rests in less obvious or hard-to-reach spaces. If tooth wipes are all that your dog will tolerate, they’re still a great option to look after their oral hygiene, and are much better than doing nothing at all.

4. Let Them Chew

Many of the bones, rawhides, bully sticks, cow ears and even rubber chew toys aren’t just great ways to provide stimulation and entertainment for your dog. They can also greatly benefit your dog’s oral health. Chew toys strengthen your dog’s teeth and jaw, and the chewing process can even scrape harmful buildup off of their teeth and gums. Some dog chews also contain beneficial enzymes that break down bacteria and support their oral health.

5. Get Their Teeth Cleaned

If you suspect that your dog is facing any issues with its dental health, you may want to follow up with a veterinarian. Only a professional can adequately diagnose any problems and address any issues that your dog may have with its teeth and gums. At this time, it’s also helpful to ask your veterinarian for a professional teeth cleaning. Even the most detail-oriented dog owners may be missing a few spots when they perform regular teeth cleanings, but a professional can make sure to get any areas that were missed and leave your dog’s teeth clean, healthy and plaque-free.

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