Q: Our female cocker spaniel has recently started having bad breath and sometimes drools on herself. She eats well and seems normal otherwise. The groomer says she may have bad teeth and that we should brush them. Can you really brush a dog's teeth?
A: Brushing your dog's teeth can definitely be done weekly to help keep her gums healthy and her teeth clean. You may have to start off gradually by brushing or wiping several teeth at a time until your dog gets used to the brush and having her mouth handled. If you don't have a brush, you can use a Q-tip or washcloth. There are also dog toothpastes, or you can use plain water.
When you brush or clean your dog's teeth, you should start at the gum line to remove the plaque that builds up in these areas, especially along the molars in the back of the mouth, the long canine teeth and between the small incisor teeth on the front of the mouth. Dogs suffer more from gum disease than cavities. Since your dog has an odor from her mouth, you should have her examined by your veterinarian. She may already have gingivitis and periodontal disease from the calculi buildup and could require scaling with a dental ultrasonic device. There may be an infection of her lips or muzzle, which will necessitate clipping and cleaning of the skin. An infected or broken tooth may have to be removed. In some cases, dental surgery, such as root canal, can save marginal teeth that may otherwise be lost. Your veterinarian should be able to show you how to keep your dog's teeth clean and healthy. The time and effort that you take will help your dog keep her teeth longer and reduce her bad breath.