Your dog’s teeth are the gateway to their health and well-being. An unhealthy mouth can quickly contribute to an unhealthy pet. Dental disease is the single most common disease in dogs, with about 80% of dogs having some form of the disease by the age of 3. That’s a huge number, especially when the disease is 100% preventable! Unfortunately, dental disease isn’t only bad for your dog’s mouth—it can also contribute to other serious health problems if left untreated.
So how do we prevent dental disease in the first place? First, it’s important to understand what causes dental disease and how it starts.
What Causes Dental Disease in Dogs?
Every time your dog eats, particles of food stick to the teeth, forming a film called plaque. In time, plaque hardens into tartar (calculus), which causes discoloration. Plaque and tartar harbor bacteria, and it’s these bacteria that instigate dental disease by breaking down the enamel, gum tissue, and even the bone of the teeth. Tartar that spreads under the gum line is especially dangerous as it gives the bacteria full access to the roots of your pet’s teeth—and it’s a safe place to hide where a regular toothbrush can’t reach.
What’s more, is that your dog’s immune system actually makes the disease worse. Bacteria in your dog’s mouth is treated as a foreign invader, so the immune system reacts by causing inflammation in the mouth, which causes further damage to the gums and teeth.
Dental disease in dogs is a relatively new problem, brought on due to their domestication and a move away from a raw wild diet. Kibble, while full of nutrients your dog needs, is a processed food that contains carbohydrates that act as sugars on your pet’s teeth. Contrary to some beliefs, these carbohydrates are actually essential to your dog’s health, so changing your dog’s diet isn’t the best solution.
Furthermore, some dog breeds are more predisposed to dental disease than others. These include:
- Collies – Collies are prone to an overbite which can cause tooth-on-tooth and gum tissue damage, hastening dental disease
- Pugs – Many brachycephalic breeds like pugs have crowded teeth that allow for increased food entrapment and are notorious for malocclusion, and an uneven bite.
- Yorkies – Small and toy breeds including Yorkies, Poodles, Maltese, and Pomeranians often have persistent deciduous (baby) teeth, which means they don’t fall out when adult teeth come in, but remain in the mouth, creating overcrowding and potentially malocclusion.
- Dachshunds – A Dachshund’s narrow mouth makes it vulnerable to developing periodontal pockets, created by gum and tooth loss where bacteria thrive.
- Boxers – Boxers, Great Danes, Mastiffs, and Bulldogs are all prone to hyperplasia, a thickening of the gums as an inflammatory response to plaque and tartar, which causes more harm.
Signs of Dental Disease in Dogs
- Bad breath
- Difficulty eating or picking up toys
- Discolored teeth
- Tilting head to one side when chewing
- Disinterest in chew toys
- Loose teeth or missing teeth
- Shying away from touch, especially around the head and mouth
What Happens if Dental Disease is Left Untreated?
If left untreated, dental disease can affect far more than your pet’s mouth. It can cause other serious health issues including:
- Osteomyelitis (bone infection) – since the roots of teeth are attached to the jaw bone, infection from the mouth can spread to the bone.
- Chronic sinusitis
- Jaw fractures
- Septicemia (blood infection) which can lead to shock and death
- Damage to the heart, kidneys, and liver
How to Prevent Dental Disease
Dental disease is 100% preventable with consistent at-home care as well as regular trips to the vet for a professional teeth cleaning. Here are some ways you can help reduce your dog’s risk of dental disease.
At-Home Dental Care Options for Dogs
You can do a lot at home to prevent dental disease in your dog. The single best method of removing plaque and tartar is by brushing your dog’s teeth. This involves using a dog toothbrush or a finger brush and some dog-safe toothpaste. (Never use human toothpaste for your dog as it can make them sick and cause more harm than good). All you need to do is brush the outward-facing parts of their teeth in a gentle rhythmic motion similar to how you brush your own teeth. Don’t worry too much about getting the inward-facing sides of their teeth, as their own tongue does a pretty good job of removing food debris.
While brushing your dog’s teeth is the best way to keep their teeth healthy at home, it can also be one of the most challenging. Not all dogs take to it well, and sometimes extensive training simply isn’t possible for some pet parents. Luckily, there are several other options for keeping your pet’s teeth healthy at home.
Here are some other ways to promote dental health at home:
- Dental chews
- Dental sprays and rinses
- Water additives
- Prescription dental diets
Professional Dental Care with Your Veterinarian
No matter how good your at-home dental care regime is, your dog will still need the occasional professional dental cleaning. A professional cleaning at your veterinarian involves general anesthesia, which is essential for the safety and comfort of your pet. While under anesthesia, the trained veterinary technician can remove plaque and tartar from below the gum line, where it is most likely to cause dental disease. While anesthesia can be a scary prospect for any pet parent, advancements in veterinary medicine have made dental procedures very safe, and the benefits of the procedure far outweigh the risks.
A professional dental procedure will likely include:
- Pre-anesthetic bloodwork and an exam to ensure your dog is healthy enough for the procedure
- Dental X-rays to check the health of teeth below the gum line
- A full dental evaluation to check for signs of disease like periodontal pockets
- Ultrasonic and hand scaling to remove plaque and tartar from teeth both above and below the gum line
- Polishing of each tooth to smooth the enamel and reduce future tartar build-up
- Extractions of damaged teeth, if needed (pain medication will be given to your pet to reduce discomfort)
If your pet has bad breath or you’re concerned about their dental health for any reason, be sure to make an appointment with your veterinarian sooner rather than later so they can perform a full dental assessment and get your pet the care they need!