Have you ever looked into your dog’s mouth to check on those pearly white teeth or do you only check the mouth when there is a bad smell or your dog won’t eat.
Dental problems are among the top three concerns of pet owner reported in a recent survey.
Poor dental hygiene may result in unnecessary suffering, pain and even severe infections leading to blood poisoning.
A dog with good oral hygiene will lead a healthier and happier life.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Dogs all have individual responses to dental diseases just like we do, with some dogs showing very obvious problems and others coping with them much better. If you notice any of the following clinical signs in your dog please seek immediate veterinary care:
- Halotosis (bad breath)
- Excess salivating (drooling)
- Loss of appetite, or inability to eat
- Bleeding from the mouth
- Swollen or bleeding gums
- Broken tooth
- Rubbing at the mouth
- Pus oozing from the mouth or face
- Not feeling well
HOW DOES DENTAL DISEASE DEVELOP
A build up of food and bacteria on the teeth over time will eventually lead to dental disease. We try to prevent this ourselves with daily brushing but our pets find it difficult to manage those toothbrushes we take for granted!
Periodontal disease is the most prevalent disease in dogs, so it is important to gain an understanding of the factors that contribute to it.
The soft, sticky film of bacteria, proteins, inflammatory cells and debris in the mouth adhere to the teeth causing plaque which appears as a yellow film on the teeth. The plaque accumulates and bacteria develop deeper infection in the gums, leading to gingivitis. As the plaque hardens or mineralises it develops into calculus or tartar, and its rough surface makes it easier for more bacteria to attach.
Periodontal disease causes infection or inflammation to the supporting tissue which holds the tooth in its socket. Plaque is the primary cause of periodontal disease in dogs.
Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) is the mildest form of periodontal disease in dogs. It is important to note that gingivitis is reversible if treated and managed correctly.
Periodontitis is the most severe form of periodontal disease as the gingivitis has spread to cause the destruction of the supporting periodontal tissue and may result in the loss of teeth. Periodontitis is irreversible.
IS EACH BREED THE SAME?
It is well recognised that some breeds of dogs are more prone to dental hygiene problems than others. For example, Maltese Terriers, Chihuahuas, Schnauzers, Toy and Miniature Poodles, and many other small breeds have more dental diseases than some of the larger breeds such as Labradors, German Shepherds and the working breeds.
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON MOUTH PROBLEMS?
- Plaque which appears as a yellow film on the teeth
- Tartar build up which has the appearance of a thickened yellow, brown or creamy material that is very hard when touched. In many dogs it tends to accumulate more on the molars.
- Periodontitis which will lead to gum recession, tooth decay and tooth root abscesses. In many cases the tooth will require extraction.
- Abscesses which will often develop around molars or canine teeth, with a swelling on the cheek or a pus discharge from the nostril.
- Broken teeth are very common in dogs, and surprisingly not all of them cause pain or infections.
- Loss of teeth is also quite common, with many dogs presenting for an examination only to find that some of the teeth have dropped out, usually from severe periodontitis.
- Bleeding from the gums may indicate a number of problems such as trauma, infections, foreign bodies, bleeding disorders, cancers, ingestion of rat baits, liver disease and immune mediated diseases.
- Foreign bodies such as bones, sticks are commonly found wedged between teeth. The dogs will usually be drooling, have a really bad odour and often find it difficult to eat.
- Ulceration of the gums and hard palate may be due to a number of causes
- Diabetic dogs will often develop severe mouth infections
- Cancers of the mouth are thankfully not common. If present, they may involve the tonsils, gums, maxilla or the mandible.
WHAT EFFECT WILL MOUTH PROBLEMS HAVE ON YOUR DOG?
Periodontitis and abscesses have the potential to be serious. The bacteria may spread to the bloodstream and travel to vital organs such as heart, liver and kidneys causing blood poisoning and possible death. This has been confirmed in scientific studies.
Most dogs however just present with bad breath, poor appetite or just not feeling well and can be returned to good health with proper treatment and management.
WHAT TO DO
Firstly visit your veterinarian for a dental check up. Depending on the diagnosis, the treatment may involve
- Blood tests
- A general anaesthetic, teeth cleaning and polishing,
- Xrays of the teeth, mandible an maxilla
- Antibiotics and pain relief
- Preventative oral hygiene
DENTAL HYGIENE HOMECARE
Your veterinarian or veterinary nurse will be able to advise you on the most appropriate ongoing preventative dental hygiene programme for your dog.
Daily plaque control is the key goal for dental homecare. Plaque and tartar can be controlled in a number of very practical ways.
Firstly, feed your dog dry diets that have been specially formulated for plaque control. These are now widely used and are the most practical means available of reducing plaque build up and subsequent periodontal disease. These diets are readily available from veterinarians.
Secondly, daily brushing of the teeth with specially formulated toothpaste and brushes. You will have to train your dog to become used to it, and be prepared to spend a few minutes each day doing it. Please do not use human toothpaste as the fluoride is toxic to dogs.
Thirdly, feed dry treats which are formulated for plaque control.
A NOTE OF CAUTION:
Dogs have eaten bones for centuries as part of their diet and many do not have any problems. However veterinary specialists caution against feeding bones, hooves and hard chewy toys to your dogs as many dogs fracture canine and molar teeth when trying to eat them. Stick to specially formulated teeth cleaning diets or treats which your veterinarian can recommend and those teeth will remain pearly white and in place.