When it comes to doggie dental care, we don’t necessarily picture our pups sitting in a dentist’s chair or brushing their teeth at the bathroom sink. However, dental care is crucial for maintaining your dog’s overall health.
While canine cavities are relatively uncommon, gum deterioration and other dental issues are easily preventable, which is great news because the progression of these common issues can have a serious impact on Fido’s health.
No one expects their dog to have minty-fresh breath. After all, dogs’ mouths simply aren’t that clean. That being said, your dog’s breath definitely shouldn’t make you recoil. If your dog regularly has bad breath, it could be a symptom of a more serious dental problem. In fact, periodontal decay—an infection caused by bacteria in plaque—affects the majority of dogs by the time they’re only three years old.
Of course, it’s also possible that your dog’s bad breath is the result of digging through the trash and eating something gross. Take some time to familiarize yourself with your pooch’s mouth, perhaps by getting a whiff of his breath for a few days in a row. That way, you’ll be able to tell when something seems out of the ordinary.
Plaque and Tartar
Plaque, which is the soft layer of gunk (such as bacteria and food) that accumulates on a daily basis and can be removed easily. Dogs can naturally clean their teeth through chewing, but this shouldn’t replace regular teeth cleanings.
If plaque isn’t cleaned off, it will eventually harden and turn into tartar, which attaches firmly to the teeth and affects the gums.
Gingivitis is a form of gum disease caused by tartar. When the tartar digs into and underneath the gums, it causes them to become red and inflamed. Gingivitis does not affect the teeth and can be reversed with proper dental care.
However, if untreated, gingivitis can lead to a more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis.
Years of untreated plaque, tartar, and gingivitis can lead to a form of gum disease called periodontitis, with tissue damage to the gums, ligaments, and teeth. Periodontitis can lead to tooth root abscesses and even loss of teeth.
Because periodontitis is not reversible once it occurs, prevention is absolutely crucial. For dogs with periodontitis, vets can give instructions and specialized treatments for slowing the progression of the disease.
Broken, Loose, or Rotated Teeth
Some tooth problems are a result of periodontal disease. Others may occur due to trauma to the teeth, or another reason entirely.
It’s always a good idea to take a pooch with a cracked or broken tooth to the vet, even if seems like a minor issue. Cracks can expose the teeth to bacteria, which can lead to bigger issues down the road such as infection.
Some puppies don’t lose all of their baby teeth in time, which can lead to overcrowding of the teeth. Some breeds are simply more prone to tooth overcrowding. Fortunately, overcrowding can be treated with surgery which also prevents further complications.
Signs of Dental Problems in Dogs
Dental problems may be painful, but it’s unlikely that your furry friend will let you know unless the pain becomes unbearable. This is because dogs instinctively hide any signs of pain to avoid being perceived as weak.
Since your pup can’t tell you about his toothaches, it’s up to you to pick up on the signs and symptoms of dental problems in dogs. Common symptoms include:
- Difficulty eating or appetite loss
- Pawing at teeth or mouth
- Not wanting to be touched on the head
- Chewing on one side of the mouth
- Nasal discharge
- Under-eye swelling
- Bad breath
- Discolored teeth
- Loose, broken, or missing teeth
- Red, inflamed, and/or bleeding gums
- Blood left behind on chew toys
- Unexplained weight loss
Common risk factors for periodontal disease include medical conditions (such as diabetes or Cushing’s Disease), breed, genetics, age, and diet. Delayed loss of baby teeth and excessive chewing can also lead to dental issues in dogs.
The most common cause, though, is inadequate dental cleaning. As a dog owner, the best thing you can do for your dog’s teeth is prevention. Implement an at-home dental routine with your dog, and invest in safe, healthy chew toys. Chewing on dry food is also a great way for your pup to naturally clean the plaque from his teeth.