Breaking Down The Basics of Doggy Dental Hygiene
Does your dog need a breath mint? Is his breath so bad you can’t even snuggle with him anymore? Contrary to what many pet parents believe, “dog breath” is not just part of owning a dog. It could actually be the first clue that your best buddy is developing dental disease.
Inside your adult dog’s mouth, there are 42 permanent teeth. He has premolars for grinding, molars for chewing, canines for tearing, and incisors for biting. Each type of tooth has a purpose and they’re all vital to the process of eating. And, just like any other vital piece of equipment, regular maintenance is essential for proper function.
Yet, when it comes to our dogs’ dental health, many pet parents overlook its importance, and that’s a huge mistake. According to experts from the American Veterinary Dental Society, as many as 80% of dogs are already showing signs of periodontal disease by the time they’re just three years old, and that makes it the most common health issue affecting our canine friends today.
Your dog’s dental health can impact his overall health, including his heart, kidneys, and other vital organs. Leaving dental issues unaddressed can lead to systemic infections, painful abscesses, and of course, tooth loss.
So, how do you look after your dog’s dental health at home? How can you tell if there’s an issue? And, when is it time to consult with your vet? Here everything you need to know!
Causes of Canine Dental Disease
When bacteria, plaque, and eventually, tartar build up on your dog’s teeth and become trapped under his gum line, it leads to a painful condition called canine dental disease, also known as canine periodontal disease. These bacteria can travel into the bloodstream and affect your pet’s oral and overall health in a variety of ways.
Early Detection is Vital
When it comes to canine dental disease, younger dogs are just as much at risk as seniors. Since most dogs are showing signs of dental disease by age three, it’s never too early to be on the lookout for early signs. Bad breath, red or swollen gums, and tartar buildup on the teeth should all be mentioned to your vet right away.
Detecting these early warning signs of canine dental disease can improve your dog’s prognosis tremendously. The longer the condition goes untreated, the more likely it is to cause severe inflammation and chronic pain. Early intervention improves your pet’s quality of life.
The Signs of Canine Dental Disease
You don’t have to be a veterinarian to notice many of the signs of canine dental disease. Use your eyes and nose to be on the lookout for developing issues at home and contact your vet right away if you notice a potential problem.
In addition to bad breath, alert your vet if you notice visible signs of yellow, gray, or brown tartar on your dog’s teeth. Other signs to look for include:
- Bleeding, swelling, or bright red gums
- Loose, broken, or missing teeth
- Lack of interest in eating
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing (According to veterinary dentists at Bond Vet, this might not be obvious. If you notice your buddy picking up food and then dropping it back into the bowl, that could be a red flag.)
- Pawing at the face and mouth
- Unusual drooling or discharge from the mouth
- Facial swelling or signs of pain around the mouth
- Grinding the teeth
- Growths or bumps inside the mouth or on the gums
Pet parents should monitor their dog regularly for any of these signs and call your vet immediately if you see a potential problem. But it’s important to understand that not all signs of canine dental disease are visible. During a dental cleaning, your veterinarian will use x-rays and probes to verify the condition of your dog’s teeth under the gum line where you can’t see.
Dental Disease is Painful, but It Can Be Treated
We all love our pets, and the last thing we want is for them to be in pain, and that’s one of the reasons why looking after their oral health is so important. If dental disease isn’t treated until after it has progressed for years, your pet has already been experiencing chronic and significant pain due to infection, inflammation, and decayed teeth.
Unfortunately, dogs are pros at hiding pain, so it’s quite possible that you may not realize there’s an issue unless you know what to look for. While bad breath is often the first outward sign, changes in behavior or appetite should also be noted and mentioned to your vet.
The good news is, resolving existing dental issues right away will alleviate his pain and result in a happier, healthier, more active dog! However, if the condition goes untreated for a long time, some of the damage may become irreversible, so be sure to act quickly if your vet recommends it.
Professional Dental Cleanings are Necessary for Your Dog’s Health
Your dog should have a routine dental exam every six to 12 months. During the exam, the vet will visually inspect the teeth for signs of gum disease, loose or broken teeth, tartar buildup, and signs of pain or sensitivity in the mouth. Depending on what he finds, he may recommend professional cleaning.
Professional cleanings should be done every one to three years, as recommended by your vet. Professional dental cleaning for your dog starts out with a similar process to what you might expect at a human dentist. First, the vet will perform an oral exam to identify visible issues. Then x-rays are taken to identify issues below the gum line, where you can’t see.
Then, teeth are also probed to measure any pockets under the gumline. Next, your veterinary team will scale the teeth to remove calculus and tartar from the teeth and under the gums. If the teeth are very unhealthy, they may need to be extracted to prevent further infection, health issues, and pain.
Finally, the teeth are polished to slow down the buildup of bacteria and plaque in the future. If your dog doesn’t need any extractions, the entire process usually takes less than an hour.
Professional dental cleaning is necessary for dogs because there’s no way to see under the gumline or remove tartar buildup at home. While brushing and dental chews are important for preventing buildup, they can’t treat existing dental disease.
On the bright side, the procedure is done under anesthesia, so your dog won’t be in any stress or pain.
Tooth Extractions May Be Required
During a professional dental cleaning, tooth extractions may be required. If the tooth is broken and the inner pulp is exposed, that tooth will need to be removed to prevent further pain and infection. This can happen when your pet chews on something very hard, like a rock, a fence, or a very hard bone.
Other reasons for extraction include loose teeth, a tooth that is dead, or an infection that is too severe to be cleared up with antibiotics. If your dog still has puppy teeth or adult teeth that have never erupted, they could cause infection, so they may also need to be removed.
While your first instinct may be to try to save the tooth, that’s probably not the best course of action. Periodontal disease in dogs attacks the structures that keep their teeth in place, so diseased teeth will eventually fall out anyway. Trying to save the tooth won’t work, and it will only prolong your dog’s pain.
Nobody wants to think about having their dog’s teeth pulled, but sometimes dental x-rays find issues lurking under the gums. If your vet recommends extraction, it’s best to have it taken care of right away. Waiting could lead to further pain, dental, and health issues for your dog, and additional expense for you in the future.
Keeping Your Dog’s Teeth Healthy at Home
Caring for your dog’s teeth at home on a daily basis will promote good oral health and possibly prevent the need for expensive extractions in the future. One of the best ways to care for your dog’s teeth is to brush them regularly with a pet-safe toothpaste (Never use human toothpaste on your dog because it may contain xylitol and other ingredients that are toxic to dogs.
If your dog won’t allow you to brush his teeth, talk to your vet about special dental diets to promote oral health. Providing your dog with dental chews can also help to keep his teeth and gums healthy by preventing plaque and bacteria buildup.
Dental treats can also be helpful, but they’re not all created the same. Look for quality ingredients and the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval to ensure that you’re investing in a product that will actually benefit your pup’s oral health.
Home dental care will only be effective for preventing tartar buildup on the teeth. It will be most effective if you’re starting out with clean teeth. And, they can’t resolve existing periodontal disease.
Providing adequate dental care is just as important to your dog’s health as daily walks, annual vaccines, and choosing the right dog food. If you’ve been neglecting his oral health, now is the time to act! Give your vet a call and set up a dental exam right away.