Dogs need dental care, too! Unfortunately, dental hygiene for dogs is sometimes overlooked. Many people seem to just expect dogs to have bad breath, and few people brush their dogs’ teeth frequently enough. Dental hygiene is just as important to your dog’s overall health as things like nutrition, proper exercise, and routine grooming. Help keep your dog healthy: pay attention to those pearly whites!
Monitoring Your Dog’s Dental Health
Catching teeth problems early will help avoid severe dental disease. The simplest way to keep track of your dog’s teeth is to look at them on a regular basis and be aware of signs that may indicate a problem. To inspect your dog’s teeth, lift the lips all around the mouth, looking at the front and back teeth as closely as possible. Be gentle and use caution so you do not accidentally get nipped! Your veterinarian will also take a look at your dog’s teeth during routine examinations, so make sure you keep up with these; visit your vet every 6-12 months for wellness check-ups. Contact your vet if any problems arise. Watch for the following signs:
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Reluctance to chew or crying out when chewing
- Increased salivation
- Red and/or puffy gums
- Bleeding gums
- Tartar (calculus), a hard coating on teeth that is usually brown or yellow; results from plaque build-up
- Missing and/or loose teeth
- Anything else about the mouth that appears unusual
The Dangers of Dental Disease
Plaque builds up on the teeth and turns into tartar, also called calculus. These areas grow bacteria and eat away at the teeth and gums. Halitosis, periodontal disease, oral pain and tooth loss can occur. However, the bacteria not only cause disease in the mouth; they can also affect other parts of the body, like the heart and kidneys. The most important thing to do is address dental disease as soon as it is detected, no matter how minor. Better yet, work hard to prevent it!
Preventing Dental Disease in Dogs
There are several things you can do to help keep your dog’s teeth in good shape. Start a dental care routine as early as possible in your dog’s life and stick with it.
Tooth brushing is the gold standard when it comes to oral hygiene and should be done every 24-48 hours in order to be effective. Start when your dog is a puppy so he gets used to the feeling of having his teeth brushed. Puppies have 28 deciduous teeth that typically fall out by about six months of age. By this time, your dog should be on a regular tooth brushing routine.
If you are unable or unwilling to brush your dog's teeth every day or two, look for an alternative, such as special dental chews or a food/water additive. Not all products are equally effective, so ask your vet for recommendations. Dental chews should be easily digestible and size-appropriate. Typically, they need to be given on a daily basis in order to be effective. Food additives are generally used on a daily basis as well. If water additives are used, it is generally recommended that you change the water daily.
Most important of all: make sure you keep up with routine vet exams. From time to time, a professional dental cleaning may be recommended. This requires general anesthesia. During the procedure, your dog’s teeth and gums will be examined closely for problems. The teeth will then be scaled and polished. If dental problems are noted, tooth extractions could become necessary. Alternatively, you may be referred to a veterinary dentist for specialty procedures. Some dogs need dental cleanings one or more times per year while others can go longer. Be certain to follow your vet’s recommendations. And remember, what you do at home can really make all the difference.