Dental care advice for dogs

Alison Laurie-Chalmers, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets

February is dental awareness month. I would like to educate owners and raise awareness of the importance of good canine dental health.

Dental disease can advance silently and quickly causing smelly breath, oral pain, eroding gums, infection and missing teeth. It is common in all dogs, with a staggering 80% suffering from some stage of gum disease before they reach 3 years old!

Gum disease is caused by bacteria, along with food, saliva and other particles in the mouth forming a sticky film called ‘plaque’. Plaque builds up over the teeth and gums and cause serious problems if it’s left untreated. Gum disease is five times more common in dogs than in humans because dogs have a more alkaline mouth promoting this heavy plaque formation. If dogs don't have their teeth brushed every day, this gives the plaque-forming bacteria even more chance to multiply. The plaque hardens over time and forms the hard calculus called ‘tartar’ which is a perfect surface for even more plaque build up to stick onto. 

Tartar and bacteria at the gum line can lead to inflamed, bleeding gum tissues called ‘gingivitis’. Gingivitis can be reversible if tartar is cleaned off the teeth however if it’s left untreated this can progress to ‘periodontitis’ which is irreversible. There is a loss of attachment of the tooth in the socket, which may eventually lead to tooth mobility, infection and loss of teeth.

Worryingly, infection from chronic dental disease may also enter the pet’s bloodstream causing infections elsewhere in the body.

Dental disease can be very painful, but most animals are extremely good at covering up these signs and they will rarely stop eating. The symptoms of dental disease often include; bad breath, red swollen gums, decreased appetite, difficulty picking up food, blood in saliva, blood in their water bowl or on chew toys, pawing at their mouth, dribbling excessively and being selective with food such as only eating softer foods.

Our pets need a general anaesthetic to have dentistry performed. Generally what we see on an initial dental examination is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s not until the pet is under anaesthetic that we can have a thorough examination of the mouth.

Preventing gum disease can be a part of your routine pet care. Ideally you would brush your dog’s teeth daily so you are minimising the bacteria build up and helping your dog maintain a healthy mouth. Looking after our dog’s teeth is just as important as looking after our own. Introduce teeth brushing at the puppy stage so that they grow up thinking that this procedure is quite normal. If dental brushing is introduced at a young age most dogs respond well and enjoy this new form of attention. Ask your vet or vet nurse to demonstrate and introduce tooth brushing gradually using healthy rewards and dog toothpaste. Also give your dog healthy dental chews, recommended by the vet or vet nurse.

Remember, many pet insurance policies do not cover costs of dental work, so it is even more important to look after your pet's teeth from an early age.

If you have any concerns about your pet’s oral health, do contact Crown Vets for an appointment for a dental check-up.