Dogs Dental Care
As with people, your dog needs to have good oral hygiene to keep a healthy set of teeth and gums throughout his life.
Normally gums should be a pink colour, with no redness or bleeding where the gums meet the teeth. (Some breeds have black pigmentation of the gums or patches of black pigmentation, which is quite normal.) Teeth should be clean and white, not discoloured or coated with yellow or brown tartar deposits. There should be no pain or discomfort when eating.
Bad breath (halitosis) only develops if there are problems with oral disease or disease elsewhere in the body (e.g. diabetes, kidney disease), as our pets are a huge part of the family, we should want to be close to them without having to tolerate nasty smelly breath.
By the age of 3 years 80% of dogs have some form of dental disease. Problems with oral health often begin with accumulation of plaque on the surface of teeth. This is a mixture of oral bacteria, food debris and protein from saliva, which forms a sticky film over teeth that are not brushed. Plaque then hardens and can form tartar, which has a roughened surface, with lots of tiny pockets into which more bacteria and food debris can accumulate, thus starting a rapidly progressing vicious cycle – more tartar, more food debris, more plaque etc.
As layers of tartar build up, the tartar starts to overhang the edge of the tooth beside the gum which leads to inflammation and infection of the gums (gingivitis). This is seen as redness of the gums along the base of the tooth. Very quickly this leads to bleeding gums and they start to recede away from the tooth roots. The structures supporting the tooth in its socket become damaged, eventually leading to tooth loss or tooth root infections and abscesses.
Tooth root abscesses cause tremendous pain and may be first noticed by an animal dribbling, stopping eating, or refusing to eat dry food because of the pain of chewing. However, sometimes the first thing you will notice will be a swelling on the cheek underneath one eye, or on the lower jaw. At this stage, tooth extraction is the only treatment.
Also once the gums become inflamed and start to bleed, the bacteria trapped in the tartar can start to enter the bloodstream, causing the animal to feel dull and subdued or it may cause a fever to develop and the animal may be inappetant. Sometimes we can see a worsening of pre-existing heart or kidney problems as the bacteria settle out of the bloodstream in already damaged organs.
Factors That May Contribute to Dental Problems
- Poor oral hygiene – Without preventative care, plaque and tartar will accumulate and lead to dental disease and gingivitis.
- Food – feeding your pet on sticky food will lead to a more rapid accumulation of tartar.
- Age – as your pet becomes older it is more prone to dental disease.
- Breed – overcrowded teeth or misaligned teeth are often seen more in smaller breeds of dogs e.g.Yorkshire Terriers
What should I look out for?
The signs of dental disease are varied but it is worth getting your pet checked if it shows any of the following signs:
- Build-up of tartar on the teeth – this is a grey/brown deposit that usually starts near the gum and spreads over the tooth.
- Reluctance to play with toys
- Smelly breath
- Some pets will have trouble chewing food or treats and may spit them out or even refuse to eat. This is more common with hard foods.
- A red area on the tooth gum border.
- Erosion of the gum around the tooth.
If possible, brushing your pet’s teeth regularly is the most effective way to prevent plaque accumulating. Choose a time of day when the dog is at its quietest i.e. in the evening after it’s been walked. This way you are also removing food debris from its mouth before it goes to bed (the same as us). Do not use human toothpaste because of the fluoride content, instead look for a specially formulated animal equivalent, especially as these are normally meat or cheese flavoured aiding the process!
- Begin with a finger brush or soft toothbrush and place a small amount of paste on, pushing it down between the bristles.
- Allow your dog to sniff or lick the toothpaste before placing it in their mouth.
- Concentrate on the upper teeth running the brush along these once or twice, and then stop.
- Do not get cross with the dog or chase it with the toothbrush, if it shies away give it more time to explore this strange item and sit with the dog between your legs or against a surface acting as a ‘bum-stop’.
- Do a small amount every day eventually building up the amount of strokes across each tooth including upper and lower teeth.
- Leave the front teeth until your dog is super confident with brushing as these teeth can be more sensitive: then progress to an adult toothbrush.
Our veterinary nurses are happy to demonstrate or give you extra tips if you’re getting stuck.
A balanced complete diet in growing animals ensures essential nutrients needed for strong healthy teeth. Diet is a major factor in the development of plaque and tartar. In the wild, animals would eat a diet that includes bone, skin and tough fibrous material. This material effectively acts as a toothbrush for the teeth: with abrasive action as they chew helping to physically clean the teeth.
Also the natural diet would not contain many of the sugars and sticky agents seen in so many processed diets. Thus animals fed solely tinned, soft diets are at a much higher risk of plaque and tartar accumulation.
Feeding our pets dry food, biscuits and abrasive diets helps to remove plaque accumulation and prevent subsequent dental disease. Any food which encourages your pet to chew will help clean the teeth.
Bones are not advised, as we frequently have to deal with cases where they damage the mouth or throat, or cause blockages in the guts. Synthetic chews or dental chews are much safer and are very useful in preventing plaque accumulation.
Regular dental checks
A professional examination and assessment is the best way of determining if your pet has dental disease. We can check for signs of tooth or gum damage, and if early in the process, can advise on cleaning/diet changes that may prevent further problems. However, if moderate to severe dental disease is present, we may advise a ‘dental’ procedure.
Scaling and polishing your pet’s teeth may be all that is required to restore beautiful, white healthy teeth. In more severe cases it may be necessary to remove any loose or damaged teeth. For these procedures to be safe and effective, your pet will require a general anaesthetic. Owners may be concerned about this and may ‘put-off’ coming to seek advice. It is much better we check the teeth and discuss your concerns than ignore the situation which may lead to much worse problems. Dental disease can be tremendously painful and have far-reaching health consequences in animals of any age so it is important to deal with it at an early stage.