Your dog’s teeth represent a sophisticated food-chewing machine.
Open your adult canine’s mouth and take a look. You’ll find approximately 42 permanent teeth comprised of incisors for biting, canine teeth for tearing, premolars for grinding, and molars for rigorous chewing. Each type of tooth serves an essential function within your dog’s overall process of breaking down food.
Yet, without proper care, your dog’s teeth are destined to suffer from issues associated with oral disease. As with any piece of machinery, regular maintenance is necessary to ensure continued operation at a peak level.
According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), 80 percent of dogs show oral disease by age 3, making it one of the most common conditions afflicting our canine companions. The buildup of bacteria in your dog’s mouth causes more than just bad breath – it can also serve as a catalyst of dental conditions and diseases affecting organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys.
How can you keep your dog’s mouth and teeth healthy in the face of this startling statistic? Here’s what you need to know about dog dental health.
Healthy Teeth Make a Healthy Pet
White, healthy teeth help form the foundation for any canine’s overall strong bill of health. But similar to with humans, dogs’ teeth are prone to plaque buildup. When allowed to combine with saliva and residual food between the tooth and gum, plaque turns to tartar. If plaque and tartar are not removed routinely by your veterinarian, they may cause periodontal disease.
The most common disease afflicting small animals, periodontal disease is a bacterial infection of the mouth. Its stages of severity progress from plaque and mildly inflamed gums to established gingivitis (gum disease) and, ultimately, the onset of full-fledge periodontal disease, which can result in tooth loss.
Preventive dental care represents one of the most neglected pet health needs. Periodontal disease is painful, and it’s up to us to take responsibility for our dogs’ care. If you think your dog may have periodontal disease, schedule an appointment to have your veterinarian perform an oral exam.
How to Tell if Your Dog Has Dental Disease
While you may not have a veterinary degree, your sensory perceptions can provide a strong indication of whether your canine is suffering from periodontal disease. Halitosis – or bad breath – is the most common sign of oral disease, and buildup of yellow and brown tarter on the tooth surface serves as the most obvious visual clue.
Other signs of canine periodontal disease include:
- Loose teeth
- Lack of appetite
- Difficulty chewing
- Bleeding gums
- Pawing at the mouth
As a dog owner, you should monitor your canine for potential dental conditions. However, it’s also important to realize that some periodontal disease may not be visible to even the most experienced observer. Consequently, a complete periodontal examination – including dental X-rays – may be necessary to uncover all types of oral disease.
Keeping Your Dog’s Teeth Healthy
Like daily walks for exercise, proper dental care should be a regular part of your program for keeping your canine healthy and happy. It’s often overlooked, but pets can suffer the same kinds of dental problems as humans, including severe pain, infection, and tooth loss. You can help prevent and treat issues associated with periodontal disease by working closely with your veterinarian.
Dogs should have dental exams every 6-12 months, depending on age. During a dental exam, a veterinarian will examine your dog’s teeth and gums in much the same way that a dentist looks at yours. The examination will include a visual and manual inspection to check for signs of gum disease, tooth discoloration, loose teeth, and indications of sensitivity or pain.
Your veterinarian will clean your dog’s teeth if there is a buildup of tartar or plaque. This can be done ultrasonically just as it’s done for humans. Your vet will probably recommend removing loose teeth and advise either removal or a root canal procedure if there’s tooth decay. Depending on the nature of the procedure, your dog may need to be immobilized using anesthetics.
How to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth
Tooth brushing is the single most important part of oral care and cannot be overemphasized. If your dog will allow it, you should brush his teeth daily. However, many veterinarians recognize that this frequency is unrealistic and believe several weekly brushings will suffice.
Here are guidelines to follow for brushing your dog’s teeth:
- Brushing should be done with a brush designed to remove plaque from under the gum line.
- Pick a time of day that will become a convenient part of you and your dog’s daily routine. Brushing before receipt of a treat can help your canine actually look forward to brushing time.
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and veterinary toothpaste.
- Start by offering your dog a taste of the veterinary toothpaste. Then, next time, have him taste the toothpaste, running your finger along the gums of his upper teeth. Repeat the process with a toothbrush until your canine develops a comfort level.
If all that your dog lets you brush is the outside of the upper teeth, you are still addressing the most important area of periodontal disease – prevention. But, if your canine eventually allows you to brush most of his teeth, that’s even better.
Fractured Teeth in Dogs
Canines can suffer trauma resulting in a broken or fractured tooth. Signs of a fractured tooth in a dog may include:
- Changes in the tooth shape, color, or position
- Localized facial swelling or pain
- Reduced biting pressure during play or aggression training
- Reluctance or refusal to eat food
Professional treatments for tooth trauma in canines range from application of a fluoride or bonding sealant to root canal therapy and crown restoration. A severely damaged tooth may need to be extracted.
While it’s impossible to eliminate the risk of a fractured tooth in canines entirely, you can practice prevention by monitoring your dog during aggressive play and helping your dog refrain from chewing hard items. If tooth trauma has occurred, seek treatment immediately.
Dental Cleaning Products for Dogs
In between checkups and professional dental cleanings, you can improve your dog’s oral health at home by utilizing dental-friendly products. Seek items accepted by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). Your canine will provide assistance by enthusiastically chewing on whatever products you furnish.
Examples of dental cleaning products for dogs include:
- Dental-friendly dog foods: Some foods help clean your dog’s teeth as he chews. Whereas moist dog foods encourage plaque and tarter buildup, dry foods are more orally-friendly.
- Dental rinses and wipes: Between brushes you can wash your dog’s mouth with an oral rinse or wipe designed to control tartar and freshen breath.
- Dental-cleaning chew toys: Various types of chew toys can nearly replicate the cleaning power of a dog-specific toothbrush.
Ultimately, dogs can’t really care for their teeth themselves, so their dental health rests in your hands. By ensuring your canine companion receives adequate oral care to treat and prevent periodontal disease, you’ll help keep the well-oiled machine that are his teeth in peak operating form.
Resources for Dog Dental Health
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