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Felix Adamo/ The Californian

Columnist Sherry Davis.

Just like cleaning ears and trimming nails, teeth cleaning has always been a regular part of the maintenance program for my dogs with none of them ever requiring more than a weekly tooth brushing to keep tartar under control.

That is until I got Gilligan, and now brushing dog teeth has become a part of my daily routine. I don't know if it's because he has the Collie's narrower jaw structure or because he doesn't "rinse and spit" like a Newfoundland when he takes a drink of water, but this dog's mouth produces more plaque, or at least produces it at a faster rate than any of my other dogs ever have. That means I must be very diligent about keeping plaque under control.

And that's important because just as it does in people, this colorless film, which contains large amounts of bacteria, can build up on a dog's teeth and cause infection, destroy gums and result in the loss of the tissue and bone that support the teeth. It's also important because periodontal disease, which is more common in smaller breeds of dogs and certain breeds of cats, can also lead to other serious health problems like heart, liver and kidney failure and becomes more common as a pet grows older.

According to the Veterinary Oral Health Council, warning signs of a dental problem include:

* Red, swollen gums

* Broken teeth

* Loose teeth

* Plaque and/or tartar

* Bleeding gums

* Bad breath

* Missing teeth

* Gum lesions

* Excessive drooling

* Changes in behavior/pain

Although I use food, chews and rinses formulated specifically to aid in maintaining Gilligan's oral hygiene, I've found that nothing works to control the plaque and prevent the formation of tartar on his teeth as well as routine brushing,

And the time I spent teaching him as a puppy to accept the gentle rubbing of a finger brush or piece of gauze along his gumline has paid off, because now as an 80-pound adult he readily accepts the process and considers the chicken-flavored toothpaste on his brush a treat. (Caution! Never brush your dog's teeth with toothpaste designed for people. It contains ingredients that may upset your pet's stomach.)

It may require some extra time for adult dogs that are unaccustomed to having their mouths handled to get used to it and they may resist at first, so they should be leashed and put on a sit-stay (here's where basic obedience comes in handy) and started off just like puppies.

Once they learn to relax and will hold fairly still, they can be switched to a toothbrush. During the training period I would advise starting with small, short sessions and brushing only one side of the mouth each day until your dog is comfortable. Be patient and avoid getting into a struggle with your dog or holding it too tightly, which will make it resent the process and fight you even more. Try to make tooth brushing a positive experience for both of you because if every attempt to brush your dog's teeth culminates in a knock-down drag-out you will end up avoiding it; be liberal with your praise and encouragement and reward your dog with a treat after each session.

If you're not sure how to use the toothbrush on your dog's teeth correctly, have your veterinarian demonstrate the technique during your dog's next regular check-up and keep in mind that maintaining good oral hygiene at home will help your dog avoid more extensive and expensive procedures down the line.

Warning! While it's normal for some dogs to play or try to mouth the toothbrush, never attempt to brush your dog's teeth if it has a history of snapping or trying to bite you.


While we're on the subject of teeth: My friend Linda Boyle recently told me that her veterinarian, Dr Eric Bollier at Stiern Veterinary Hospital, advised her to replace the tennis balls that her standard poodle Freyja is so obsessed with, with ones made of rubber. Apparently, the fibrous felt covering of tennis balls wears the enamel off the teeth of dogs who aggressively mouth or chew on them. Who knew?

Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/ owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.