Did you know that most dogs don’t get cavities? And, just like people, our companion animals are living longer and longer. Even with this longer life span, they still usually don’t get cavities. And, did you know even without getting cavities, the most severe medical problems companion dogs face are dental problems? An American Animal Hospital Association study recently found that about two-thirds of pet owners do not provide their animals with recommended dental care.
It is incredibly important to provide regular and thorough dental care because it is the most severe medical problem facing our canine population, today. About 80% of dogs by age 3 have some form of dental disease. And dental disease doesn’t just stop in the mouth. As it advances, infections may travel to include the heart, liver or kidneys.
Dental disease begins with a buildup of food particles and bacteria along the gum line. This buildup is called plaque. If the plaque is not removed through regular brushing, minerals in the dogs’ saliva transform the plaque into a strongly solidified, slimy, unsightly yellow-brown coating at the base of the teeth called calculus or tartar. The plaque begins its solidification process within 36 hours of forming. The accumulation of tartar irritates the gums, resulting in gum inflammation, or a redness and puffiness. The dog usually has bad breath at this point.
Once there is tartar buildup your dog has the beginnings of periodontal disease. With the buildup of tartar, the only form of removal is a veterinarian visit to have your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned.
The hardened tartar is rough – a great place for more tiny food particles to adhere, which in turn encourages greater bacteria growth. Your dog’s gums don’t like the growth of the bacteria and plaque and recede away from it, loosening and pulling away from the firm hold around each tooth the gums once had. With this loosening, a pocket is formed between the tooth and the gum, which in turn holds even more food particles and bacteria. Once pockets have formed your dog has irreversible damage, leading to loosening of the teeth, abscess, bone loss and/or infection of the area.
With the continued growth of bacteria, the continued formation of plaque and tartar the possibility of infection and bacteria entering the bloodstream rises. Possible results include endocarditis or infection of the heart valves, as well as infections of the liver or kidneys.
As with any problem, being aware of the possibility is the first step toward prevention. That awareness includes both in-home and veterinarian checks of your dog’s teeth. Veterinarians should check the teeth of puppies and young dogs (to the age of 3) every 6 months, and adult dogs (age 3 to 6 years) annually. Dogs older than 6 years might need to be checked on a semi-annual basis.
Optimally, at-home checks are performed weekly. To inspect your dog’s teeth very gently lift their lips and look all around the mouth – in front, in the back and inside the mouth, if possible. You are looking for:
Red or puffy gums
Brownish/yellow build-up around the base of the teeth – this is tartar, a solidified coating formed from a
a build-up of plaque, and not a good thing
Missing or loose teeth
At-home mouth exams are a great start toward good dental care; however, exams are never prevention. As in us pet owners, a dental care program that includes teeth brushing is the only form of prevention. Impeding the growth of plaque and tartar is the best defence against any dental disease. And that means brushing your dog’s teeth.
So, how do you brush your dog’s teeth? Rule number one: begin when they are only a puppy. However, if you didn’t start then, begin as soon as possible. Here are some suggestions:
Brush at least 3-4 times weekly, daily if possible – remember, plaque starts solidifying into a shell of tartar around your dog’s teeth within about 36 hours and then needs a vet trip to remove.
NEVER use human toothpaste – it contains fluoride and other things that could easily sicken your dog.
Use a canine toothpaste – they usually are chicken or beef flavoured and have an enzymatic action which helps reduce the growth of the plaque bacteria.
Use either a special, long-handled, dog toothbrush or a “finger brush” – when first beginning the brushing process the finger brush might be easier for both you and your dog.
Your veterinarian might be able to show you techniques that could make brushing easier for you and your dog.
In addition to regular tooth brushing, there are other ways you can provide for dental health. Feed your dog high quality, crunch, dry dog food. Soft, canned dog food stays on the teeth and encourages the buildup of plaque. In addition, you can provide your dog with a Veterinary Oral Health Council of Acceptance approved canine chew product. These products include the following:
Canine Bright Bites and Checkup Chews for Dogs
Canine Greenies, Greenies Senior and Greenies Lite
Del Monte Tartar Check Dog Biscuit, any size
Friskies Cheweez Beef hide Treats for Dogs
Hartz Flavor Infused Oral Chews, any size
Healthy mouth Antiplaque water Additive
Plaque attacker dental toys – rope, toys or rawhide chips
Tartar Shield Soft Rawhide Chews for Dogs
Vetradent Dog Chews can be also sold as Blue chews and Tiny Toy Dental Chews
There are also several crunchy dog foods which are formulated to help prevent plaque buildup. Please see your veterinarian for advice in foods formulation.
Veterinary dentistry, like human dentistry, is common, sophisticated and thorough. Some veterinarians specialize in pet dentistry and thus are Board-certified. Pet owners have many avenues available to provide quality dental care to your pets. Your veterinarian can provide specific suggestions geared toward your dog and his/her personal habits. However, the most important one thing you can do for your pet is to provide regular tooth brushing. The second most important thing is, having your dog’s teeth cleaned regularly by your veterinarian. For more info or advice go to Cometbay Vet Hospital.