Defending against the hidden dangers in your dog's mouth

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Dan the Man, a resident at the Palmetto Animal League adoption center, gives a big yawning smile for the camera. COURTESY PALMETTO ANIMAL LEAGUE

Many people find the smell of "puppy breath" endearing, but I've never heard anyone claim to love their adult dog's breath. Doggie-breath is usually not a pleasant smell, and there are a lot of scientific (and not so scientific) reasons for that.

"Dental disease is an accumulation of saliva, food and bacteria, called 'plaque,' on the surface of teeth," said Dr. Stacey Levin, Palmetto Animal League's veterinary physician. "It can cause gum inflammation and, in more serious cases, even life-threatening infections."

There are a few simple things you can do at home to help cleanse your pooch's palate and keep him happy and healthy. "Prevention is very important," said Dr. Levin. "The best way to prevent dental disease is to clean your dog's teeth daily."

It's best to gradually introduce brushings, over a period of time. "Brushing with your finger is a good way to start," said Dr. Levin. When you are ready to introduce a toothbrush, be sure to purchase one made specifically for dogs, and never use human toothpaste as it can be harmful when swallowed by pets.

"The PAL Community Clinic offers a pet tooth gel that is very effective in inhibiting bacteria and plaque that cause bad breath," said Dr. Levin." After brushing, reward your dog with a special treat formulated to promote healthy teeth.

If all attempts at brushing have failed, it might be a sign of pain in your dog's mouth, requiring a visit to the vet.

You can also diminish doggie-breath from the inside out. "A healthy diet of premium dry dog food with natural ingredients can improve the appearance, smell and overall health of your dog's mouth," said Amy Campanini, president of PAL.

A veterinarian can recommend the best food for your dog's specific needs. Chew toys can also help in the dog-breath department, by massaging the gums and removing plaque. As a bonus, chewing helps reduce stress in dogs and prevents boredom.

Taking steps at home to improve your dog's dental health can actually extend her life. However, at-home care is no substitute for a yearly evaluation by a veterinarian. If you've been ignoring your dog's teeth for too long, it might be time for a professional cleaning.

The PAL Community Clinic can help. Call to schedule an appointment at 843-645-1727. For more information visit PalmettoAnimalLeague.org.

Lindsay Perry is the marketing coordinator for Palmetto Animal League.

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