Dental Disease in Dogs

teethDental disease is the most commonly-diagnosed health problem in dogs and can lead to painful mouth infections. These infections can spread and cause other health problems; sometimes, in the most severe cases, these infections can become life-threatening. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), approximately 80% of dogs begin showing signs of dental disease by the time they turn three.

Food particles will naturally accumulate on and between tooth surfaces when your pet eats. Bacteria in the mouth digest these particles to form plaque which is the sticky yellow film seen on the teeth. As this infection spreads, dental disease starts.

When enough plaque builds up, these bacteria cause infection of the gums (gingivitis) which is often seen as a red line along the teeth. If enough time passes, plaque hardens to form tartar which binds the infection to the tooth surface and helps push bacteria and debris under the gum line. Periodontal disease is this deeper infection of the teeth and tooth roots which ultimately results in the loss of infected teeth.

Pets that exclusively eat hard food have fewer problems than pets that eat any amount of canned, semi-moist, or table foods. Food particles are constantly accumulating on the teeth, but soft food types seem to speed up the process as much as three times the normal rate.

Dirty teeth may smell and look bad, but the damage that you don’t see is much worse. The gum tissue has an extensive blood supply; and when periodontal infection starts, bacteria gets into your pet’s circulatory system and may eventually lead to heart, liver, kidney, bone/joint disease, and possible organ failure.

What can one do to identify and prevent dental problems in dogs?

•It is suggested by many veterinarians that you can get a good idea of what’s going on in your dog’s mouth by just looking at your dog’s gums. Healthy gums are pink, as opposed to red, and have no buildup of tartar along the gum line. In addition, a healthy mouth does not produce bad breath. Bad breath and possibly drooling or frequent licking may be the first signs of dental disease.

•Have your veterinarian perform an oral exam during each annual visit. Older dogs should be given special attention as they can get abscesses with no easily-visible signs. There is the possibility that your dog may have to be sedated in order for a thorough examination to be performed.

•Try to brush you dog’s teeth on a regular basis. Start slowly by simply handling your dog’s mouth several times a day. After your dog is comfortable with this, try brushing the outside surfaces of the teeth with your finger, a wet gauze sponge, or even a small toothbrush. If your dog is comfortable with this, start using some type of paste or solution when brushing. Use a flavored toothpaste made especially for dogs–not your own toothpaste. Using your own toothpaste is not a good idea as most human products are high in detergent content which is not good for dogs as they can’t rinse and spit after brushing as we can.

•It is recommend that you feed your dog only dry hard chow as this will greatly slow the buildup of plaque. Any amount of soft food fed may mean that more professional care will be needed. In addition to brushing, treats and rawhide chew toys can help maintain your dog’s dental health. Look for a treat with a seal of approval from the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) as it’s guaranteed to be a good dental treat or food.

You can protect your dog’s teeth just like you protect your own with daily brushing and regular checkups. The major difference between your dental health and your dog’s is that your dog can’t tell you about any dental problems going on so you have to be responsible and check your dog’s mouth regularly. Prevention is the key with dental disease and one should consider beginning a dental routine with your dog as soon as possible. If you put as much emphasis on taking care of your dog’s teeth as you do your own, then dental disease shouldn’t be a problem. Remember: “Prevention Pays. Neglect Costs.”

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