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How does tartar form, and what does it do?

Plaque is an invisible coating. It is a bacterial coating that forms on the teeth within a few hours after a meal. Within 24 hours, plaque starts to harden into calculus or tartar. Tartar is harmful in two ways. First, it serves as a place where bacteria can reside and multiply in the mouth. There is substantial scientific evidence that bacteria from tartar get into the blood stream and are deposited in various organs. Heart and kidney disease may result. Second, tartar builds up at the gum line. As the tartar deposit gets larger, it pushes the gums away from the roots of the teeth. Eventually, the teeth will loosen and fall out.

How can I prevent tartar formation on my dog's teeth?

1. Brushing of the teeth is the most effective means of removing plaque before it turns into tartar. It is recommended that you use toothpaste made especially for dogs. This needs to be done at least twice weekly (preferably daily). Special brushes are made that make this task easier.

2. One way of getting your dog used to brushing the teeth is to dip the toothbrush initially in his dinner. Brush only the outside (buccal) surface of the teeth. The inner (lingual) surface of the teeth does not suffer from calculus buildup in same way as our teeth do because the dog's tongue is a lot more mobile than ours and wipes the plaque away before it hardens to tartar.

3. Use a "mouthwash" that is added to your dog's drinking water or placed in the mouth. This type of product reduces the bacterial count in the mouth, resulting in improved breath and reducing plaque. There are also special patches that can be stuck to the inside of the lips that act similarly. Please consult your veterinarian about these preventatives.

4. Scaling and polishing the teeth under an anesthetic every 6-12 months or at the first sign of tartar buildup can be very beneficial to most dogs. This will minimize damage to the gums and roots due to gum recession.

5. Encouraging chewing of rawhide or dental chew toys. Dogs which chew more tend to accumulate tartar more slowly.

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