Dental problems are the most commonly diagnosed health condition in all dogs over the age of three. Healthy gums and teeth are the first step towards ensuring your dog gets the most out of his food, and as well as being painful, and upsetting the metabolism, bacteria associated with poor dental care can eventually enter the bloodstream and damage the kidneys, heart and other organs.
Common problems for dog teeth
1. Plaque – When bacteria living on the remnants of food in the mouth combine with saliva and food debris in the channel between the tooth and gums, plaque begins to accumulate. Typically plaque will collect on the outside of the teeth, especially the upper pre-molars and molars.
2. Tartar/Calculus – If plaque is not removed it combines further (within three to five days) with minerals in the saliva and hardens to form tartar, or calculus. This tartar can then irritate the gums causing gingivitis, noticeable as a reddening of the gums close to the tooth. It’s also a major cause of halitosis, or bad breath.
3. Periodontal disease – Eventually tartar builds up under the gum line, separating the deep bony structures of the jaw from the teeth to form pockets and abscesses that encourage even more bacterial growth. The damage is now irreversible, and often leads to tooth loss, bleeding gums, eating difficulties and infections of the kidneys, heart and liver.
Danger signals for dog teeth
You should examine your dog’s mouth regularly for signs of oral disease. Bad breath is the most obvious indicator, but look out for reddened, bleeding or swollen gums, crusted yellow-brown tartar build-up on the teeth and drooling.
When gingivitis is severe, dogs may drop food from their mouths or lose weight, unable to eat comfortably. Watch out for fractured, discoloured or missing teeth, and ensure the jaw itself is not swollen or misshapen.
DIY Dental Care
How long would you go without brushing your teeth? Your dog’s teeth and gums deserve the same regular attention – which means at least three to four times a week, and ideally every day.
Dental care should begin early, even before a puppy loses his deciduous puppy teeth (by four to six months). You can get your puppy used to examination and brushing by starting slowly and systematically. Pick a time when your puppy is calm and quiet and start by simply lifting the lips on either side of his mouth, then progress to rubbing his teeth with a finger wrapped in gauze or a washcloth. Concentrate on the outside of the teeth where plaque is most likely to build up. Praise him and give him a treat as you finish each session.
Once your dog has learned to accept having his teeth gently wiped, progress to a soft canine toothbrush. Starting without toothpaste, soak the toothbrush in warm water and apply to his teeth, brushing particularly where the teeth and gums meet, with the brush head at a 45-degree angle to reach under the gum line. Stroke up and down in even movements, exerting little pressure.
Finally, and only once your dog has become accustomed to the brush, start to use an enzymatic canine toothpaste (flavours include meat, mint and malt). Never use human toothpaste.
If your dog resists you handling his mouth (a common problem when good dental care starts later in life) there are a variety of other solutions and aids:
- Oral hygiene gels, available from your vet, that contain enzymes to inhibit the bacteria responsible for plaque formation
- Dental pads that stick to the gums
- Chew toys and specially formulated dental chew products designed to reduce tartar and massage the gums
- Dry dog foods can also help scrape away plaque and tartar
Checking up on teeth at the vet
A regular dental examination can quickly identify potential problems. During an oral exam your vet will:
- Examine your dog’s face and head for asymmetry, swelling or discharge;
- Examine the oral cavity, oral mucosa and surfaces of teeth and gums;
- Examine the inner surfaces of the teeth and gums, and the tongue, palates, tonsils and ventral tongue area.
If your dog's teeth have tartar, your vet will remove it and polish his teeth. In addition, a routine dental cleaning may also include:
- Flushing the mouth with an antibacterial solution;
- Cleaning the teeth with handheld and ultrasonic scalers to remove calculus from above and below the gum line;
- Using a disclosing solution to show any areas of remaining tartar, which are then removed;
- Polishing the teeth to remove microscopic scratches;
- Inspecting each tooth and the gum around it for any signs of disease.
Your vet should then advise you on the best follow-up and home dental care program for your dog. Stay ahead of the game by being pro-active about dog dental care to help prevent health.
About the Purina PetCare Advice Centre
The Purina PetCare Advice Centre brings together a team with in-depth knowledge, experience and special interests with the skills to advise about health and nutrition, behaviour, training, socialisation, as well as basic first aid for your cat or dog. Our team of dedicated pet lovers can also provide information about Purina products and services to help you give your pet the best possible care. If you've got a question about any aspect of pet care, then ask the Purina PetCare Advice team.