Dental care in dogs
Dental disease is very common in dogs and affects up to 80% of pets over 3 years old. Unfortunately, dental hygiene for dogs is sometimes overlooked even though there can be serious consequences of poor dental hygiene. Dental hygiene is important as the growth of bacteria in the oral cavity can affect other parts of the body – like the heart and kidneys.
Symptoms of poor dental hygiene
One of the first and most common signs of dental disease that is usually ignored is halitosis (bad breath). Other symptoms include inflamed (red and swollen) gum, bleeding gum, tartar (a yellow or brown coating which is the result from plaque build-up), pain when chewing, which leads to reluctance or crying out when chewing, missing teeth, and increased salivation.
The dangers of dental disease
Bacteria in the mouth form plaque, a bacterial film that adheres to the teeth. Plaque that isn’t removed or cleaned will build up into tartar (also called calculus) which becomes firmly attached to teeth. The plaque and tartar, both of which contain bacteria, spread under the gum line. The bacteria secrete toxins and cause damage to the supporting tissues around the tooth, creating a pocket around the tooth. The gum and tissue surrounding the tartar will become inflamed and affect the tooth’s support system that can lead to tooth loss.
The bacteria that grows in tartar and any infected areas of the mouth can ‘seed’ to other parts of the body – the heart, kidneys, intestinal tract, and joints may be affected.
How to prevent dental disease
A very simple way to start with your dog’s dental hygiene is to make sure that their teeth are regularly checked. Gently lift the lips all around the mouth, check for inflamed gums, broken teeth, tartar/plaque build-up, and so on. If you’re not sure, many vets will happily show you what to look for during the dental check. Your vet can also assess other information about your dog’s health by checking the color of the gum.
Tooth brushing is another simple procedure you can do for your dogs at home. Ideally it should be done 3-4 times a week. There are a number of products for dog toothbrushing with specially designed tooth brushes and special formula and flavors in the the tooth paste. Do not use human tooth paste for your dogs.
If tooth brushing is not an option, other alternatives are natural bones, special dental chews or food/water additives. Bones and dental chews should be safe and size-appropriate. You may want to check with your vet for recommendations and safety precautions.
In severe cases, a professional dental cleaning may be recommended. This requires general anesthesia. During the procedure, your dog’s teeth and gums will be examined closely by a vet. The procedures include tartar removal, checking for cavities and gum pockets, removal or loose teeth when necessary, and finally the teeth will be polished. Some dogs need dental cleanings one or more times per year while others can go longer, depending on the preventive care that you do at home.