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.