Brushing Teeth

DENTAL & GUM CARE
By Tia Resleure ©2002- 08

Italian Greyhounds, like many other toy breeds, are notoriously prone to gum disease. Contributing factors are a long narrow skull with tight lips and a dry mouth. Dog saliva is alkaline and contains antibacterial enzymes. The normal bacterial flora which lives in the dog’s mouth helps keep harmful bacteria from flourishing(1) but not a lot of this will come into contact with the outer gum line. The IGs tight lips will hold food particles against the gum line until it is removed by you.

This is not a Show Dog versus Pet Dog grooming issue nor is it fanatical over-attention to your dog’s needs. It’s a serious health issue with this breed which you should be willing to take responsibility for on a daily basis. (Inflamation of the gums was listed as the most common breed heath problem in the 1993 IGCA Health Survey) This knowledge might convince you that an IG isn’t really the breed for you or help you to set a reasonable limit to the number of IGs in your household. There is no magic number to this limit: Some people can’t manage to care for the teeth of one IG and some have no problem caring for the daily dental needs of 7-10 IGs. (This number could be greater but I haven’t yet met that individual.) A responsible breeder or rescue rep should not only stress the importance of daily dental care but be able and willing to teach you how to properly brush your dog’s teeth and train your dog to accept brushing. They should be providing follow-up counsel to be sure that you are comfortable with the procedure.

The general rule of thumb is this: Brush DAILY for excellent oral health. Brush every other day for only mediocre dental heath. Brush every 3 days and you WILL get tartar formation. The first several times you miss a 3rd day of brushing the tartar won’t be visible but it will be forming and given time, it will darken.

Brush for a few minutes each day, alternating between MaxiGuard (or another unflavoured or mint flavor canine toothpaste) and a canine oral solution containing .12% chlorhexidine (an antibacterial agent) like Enzadent. When the mouth is healthy I recommend using MaxiGuard daily and a solution with chlorhexidine once every week or two. If you notice the beginning of a gum problem such as bleeding or inflammation, you can use the chlorhexidine solution daily until the problem subsides. Prolonged use of products containing chlorhexidine can cause yellowing of the teeth which would not be desirable in a young show dog.

Yummy flavoured toothpaste only makes cleaning the teeth more difficult because the dog will want to lick more.

It’s best to use a small dog or cat toothbrush. Finger brushes & big dog tooth brushes are too large to get all the way to the very back teeth of an IG. Some people prefer dental wipes, which are great for young dogs, but I don’t believe they do as good a job between teeth, in crevasses or along the gum line. Some people swear by electric toothbrushes be beware that it can be more difficult to get the dog to accept and you need to be careful not to use so much pressure that you damage delicate gums.

Your local pet supply store might have what you need just be sure that the paste isn’t a “tasty” beef or poultry flavour. This will only encourage the dog to lick a lot, making efficient brushing more difficult. Mint flavour is not tasty to the dog and makes their breath fresher.

Be sure to use lukewarm water for rinsing the toothbrush.

Brushing should be done gently and with the confident and firm attitude of – “I am not going to hurt you but we are going to do this” and thinking “don’t be silly this doesn’t hurt, now cut it out, this is important”. Your IG doesn’t have to love this procedure but must learn to accept it. It’s a fact of life. Be sure to PRAISE whenever the dog is behaving!

Begin these sessions when you have time to go slow but keep at it until you are finished. Do not attempt the training if you are feeling frustrated or impatient.

Start training your dog as adult teeth become fully erupted. Be aware that intensive and/or excessive mouth handling while the adult teeth are erupting and the puppy is teething is pointless and can create a dog that will always resent having it’s mouth handled. Gently lifting the lips and touching the gums of a young puppy is generally enough to have it accept later mouth handling. As the adult teeth become fully erupted you can start gently wiping them with a moistened gauze pad.

I don’t advise waiting for all of the adult teeth to be fully and completely in before starting dental care because I have seen several IGs that had to have adult incisors pulled at one year of age. These dogs didn’t have “genetically bad teeth” unless you think that the genetic structure that defines a pretty and houndy IG head is bad. Certainly some IGs seem to have teeth that you can neglect a bit longer since their teeth may be less crowded and in larger skulls but all IGs will benefit from daily attention to dental hygiene. If you don’t want a breed that requires this level of attention you might be better off with a breed that has a head like a Fox Terrier.

This structural propensity to gum disease is not to be confused with the very real problem of enamel hypoplasia that has been seen in IGs. Enamel hypoplasia(2) is a defect in the enamel that usually occurs during tooth development. Formation of the dental enamel is disrupted, leading to inadequate or absent mineralization of the the dental enamel. Causes can be due to a number of issues occurring while the the teeth are developing, such as: distemper, trauma and inflammation of the permanent tooth bud, systemic infections, massive parasite infection, endocrine problems and excessive fluoride in the drinking water. This leaves the enamel weak and pitted, causing rapid dental wear and yellowing and even greater propensity to tartar build-up. Full dental restoration or bi-yearly dental sealant my be applied. The critical need for daily brushing is further amplified by the presence of this condition.

Brushing while the dog is in a prone position will not only be easier, but will help with training your dog to accept a standing dental. I do the dog’s nails while they are prone for this same reason.

Part of the key to success is learning to restrain your dog in such a way that he can’t get loose from your firm grip. Dog that are allowed to flail and/or get loose are more inclined to build up a certain level of hysteria and/or determination to struggle. Think of a native American infant in a papoose: keeping them held snugly will give them a sense of security and keep them calmer!

To get your dog down on his/her side in the first place, hold the dog firmly against your chest and lower the dog to your side (or lap) while still against your chest. Once the dog is completely down (sandwiched between your side, or lap, and chest) put your hand on his shoulder and lift your body away from the dog.

Standing (anesthesia-free) dentals should be done as needed but not as a substitute for daily brushing. Studies have shown that manually removing plaque daily with a brush is the best way to keep your dog’s gums healthy.(3) Monthly or bi-monthly scaling instead of brushing gives you a false sense of security because, while the teeth may look reasonable or even perfectly lovely, it just isn’t healthy for the gums, roots and jaw bone to have bacteria routinely sitting along the gum line. You might get away with this for a while, but as the dog gets older it will start to lose it’s teeth, and with increasing speed as the dog ages. If you notice inflamed or receding gums (commonly on the front teeth) or an unpleasant odor (bad breath is NOT normal) go to your vet and have the mouth checked thoroughly.

I’m not suggesting that you should avoid an anesthesia dental when necessary but it is foolish and costly to normalize yearly anesthesia dentals to avoid the responsibility of daily teeth brushing. Most vets won’t want to knock out a dog with anesthesia for minor tartar accumulation anyway. Working with someone capable of performing a standing dental will not only get the teeth clean before they become a problem but can help point out areas that you aren’t brushing well enough.

Few vets are willing to deal with standing dentals. It requires great patience and a certain amount of natural talent to scale a dogs teeth while they are awake. It’s not just something you can learn by taking a class. Not only is it an impossible procedure for many veterinary personnel to perform but cuts into clinic profit margins as well.

Several years ago a handful of people were getting a lot of press for having this patience and skill. Consequently a law was created to make scaling teeth at the gum line an Official Veterinary Procedure. This coincided nicely with advances in specialization of veterinary dentistry. (The Board Certified Specialist is specially trained to perform procedures such as periodontal surgery, root canal therapy and orthodontics.) Current law will allow for standing dentals to only be performed under the supervision of a veterinarian. Let your vet know that you would like them to at least be open to trying standing dentals. If you have developed the skill to keep your dog restrained for brushing ask that your vet to let you restrain your own dog while he/she scales the teeth. It can’t hurt to request that your vet try to find someone who could provide this service for their clinic.

You can ask your vet about using a stronger chlorhexidine solution for minor infections. Most vets will have 2% chlorhexidine gluconate concentrate on hand that can be diluted to .20% and applied to the gum line after brushing. You should apply this with a very fine syringe or a soaked Q-tip. Avoid flushing the whole mouth as you want to discourage ingestion.
Scaling must always be followed by an application of polish to seal the enamel and prevent quicker plaque build up on a rough surface. Be sure that whoever is performing the dental is polishing as well!

If serious problems (such as loose teeth, extensive gum recession, serious plaque buildup on the inside of teeth, etc.) are going on, your dog will need to be put under anesthesia. If your dog is older and you are just learning to care properly for your dog’s teeth you might need to start your new dental regime after a thorough anesthesia dental.

Be sure to have your vet examine your dog’s teeth and mouth thoroughly on a yearly basis. As you become experienced at caring for your IGs teeth you will be able to hold his mouth open for the vet as s/he exams the mouth. I mention this as I have been hearing with greater frequency about (dental specialists) vets who won’t do an oral exam unless the dog is anesthetized.

Bonuses of daily dental care include strengthening the bond you have with your dog and learning to detect early signs of oral disease which could be an indication of more serious impending health problems. It’s also very likely that your dog may NEVER need an anaesthesia dental if brushing is done thoroughly and daily.

Dental chews and toys, hard biscuits and special dental diets can certainly help maintain optimum oral hygiene but should not be considered a reasonable substitute for daily teeth brushing.

Bibliography
1. Carson, DG and Giffin, JM: Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook. pg.147, 1987
2. Shipp, AD and Fahrenkrug, P: Practitioners’ Guide to Veterinary Dentistry. pg.76, 1992
3. Harvey, CE: Periodontal Disease; Diagnosis and Treatment . paragraph 4,1995