You would never consider going years without brushing your teeth and yet many dogs never get their teeth brushed or any real attention paid to their dental hygiene until it is too late. Like people, dogs build up plaque on their teeth from the foods they eat. Their diets tend to be better balanced than many human diets so they get sufficient calcium and vitamin D to keep their teeth reasonably strong but gingivitis and plaque are still an issue that needs to be dealt with.
Poor dental hygiene can lead to a number of problems including rotting teeth, gingivitis, bad breath, and difficulty chewing due to damaged teeth. It can also develop into more serious problems like gum infections and heart problems. When bacteria infect the gums, they also get into the bloodstream and can affect many organs, especially the heart. The same is true in people, it’s just that people tend to take better care of their teeth than they do their dog’s teeth.
To further complicate the matter, some breeds are much more prone to dental problems than others. Many smaller breeds seem to be more likely to develop dental issues at a young age. Whether this is genetics or the result of people being more likely to feed a small dog a diet of canned food is unknown. Some lines of dogs are simply more likely to have lots of plaque on their teeth than others. Just like some people are blessed with low maintenance teeth, so too are some dogs while others are in need of regular care.
The key to avoiding the situation is to keep on top of your pet’s dental care. Teeth that are rotten should be removed by your veterinarian. Most vets will automatically check your dog’s teeth when they do their annual examination but you can always remind them to take a look when you are there. If you notice your pet having any difficulty eating or loss of appetite, immediately check his mouth for tooth damage. Common signs of dental issues include bad breath, gums that are redder than normal or swollen looking, a sudden loss of appetite or reluctance to chew, and pawing at the mouth.
Feed a diet that is not strictly soft. Whether you choose to feed kibble or raw food, make sure that there are some abrasive elements in the diet to help scrape the plaque off your pet’s teeth. Dogs that are strictly fed canned food without any additives are more likely to develop dental problems. You can supplement with commercial dog dental chews that are designed to work on your dog’s teeth.
You can brush your pet’s teeth on a regular basis as well. There are several different types of canine toothbrushes that will work. The most important thing though is that you only use a toothpaste designed for dogs. Human toothpaste contains additives that can be toxic to pets and should never be used to clean their teeth. There are also liquids that you can add to your dog’s drinking water that help remove plaque from the teeth as well.
As your dog ages, plaque tends to build up more and the health risks also increase although many dogs have mild gum disease by the time they are three years old. In older dogs, scheduling a dental cleaning with your vet periodically can help remove any excess plaque and keep his mouth healthy. For dental cleanings, your dog will be sedated and the teeth will be cleaned in a manner not dissimilar to how your dental hygienist cleans your own teeth. They can advise you if any teeth are in particularly poor condition and should be removed.
Staying on top of your dog’s dental hygiene can mean fewer vet bills in the long run and a healthier, happier pet. Yes, it is a bit more work but in the long run it is worth it. Think about how miserable you are when you have a toothache; it’s not fun. So, talk to your veterinarian about what dental options will work best for your dog to ensure his teeth and gums stay healthy.