Dental problems can cause ongoing pain for your dog and lead to other health issues. Today, our Seattle vets discuss how to spot dental health problems in your pooch, what the most common issues are and how they can be prevented and treated.
Your Dog's Oral Health
Your dog's oral health and general health are closely linked. Your dog uses their teeth, gums and mouth to both eat and vocalize, so when the oral structures are damaged or diseased, they may stop working properly and a dog can experience pain that interferes with its ability to effectively eat and communicate.
Infections and bacteria that cause many oral health issues won't remain confined to your dog's mouth. Left untreated, these bacteria and infections can migrate and begin to make their way through your pet's body, damaging organs including the heart, kidneys and liver. This may lead to more serious negative consequences for your canine friend's health and longevity.
This is one of the reasons regular pet dental care and what most people think of as veterinary dentistry are critical aspects of your dog's routine preventive healthcare - regularly scheduled dental cleanings can prevent health problems, or ensure developing issues are detected and treated early.
How to Spot Dental Issues in Dogs
Though specific symptoms will vary between conditions, there's a chance your dog is suffering from dental disease if you notice any of these conditions or behaviors.
Some of the most common symptoms of dental disease in dogs can include:
- Difficulty with or slow eating
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Pawing at the mouth or teeth
- Visible tartar
- Loose or missing teeth
- Weight loss
- Swollen, bleeding or noticeably red gums
- Excessive drooling
If you see any of the signs of dental disease in your dog that are listed above, take them into your Seattle vet as soon as possible for examinations. The sooner your dog's dental disease is diagnosed and treated, the better outcomes for your dog's long-term health.
Common Dog Dental Problems
Several health issues can affect your dog's teeth, gums and other oral structures, and there are a few particularly common conditions to be aware of.
Plaque & Tartar Buildup
Plaque is a whitish substance made primarily of bacteria. This biofilm develops on the teeth and has a bad odor that worsens the longer it remains in the mouth. Tooth decay and gum irritation can result from plaque buildup.
If teeth are not brushed and plaque removed within about 24 to 48 hours, plaque then hardens and forms into tartar, a yellow or brown-colored substance your veterinarian calls calculus. Tartar remains attached to the surfaces of the teeth and cannot be removed without being scraped off with a dental scaler or other hard object.
Tartar causes tooth decay and gum irritation to grow worse. Plaque and tartar leave your dog at high risk for tooth loss and gum disease. Common signs include discolored deposits on teeth, a red, swollen gum line (referred to as gingivitis) and bad breath. Owners may notice more frequent bleeding gums and worsening breath as dental disease progresses.
When plaque and tartar remain in the mouth, bacteria gets under the gum line, eroding tissue and bone that hold your dog's teeth in place. Periodontal disease starts with gingivitis. Loss of soft tissue and bone surrounding the teeth occurs as the disease becomes more advanced. The teeth's support structures degrade and pockets develop around the tooth roots.
This allows bacteria, debris and food to accumulate here and dangerous infections to develop. Over time, the teeth loosen and start to fall out.
If periodontal disease develops, bacteria can make its way into the open space around tooth roots, leading to infection, which may manifest as a tooth root abscess.
Pus then develops in the bacteria-laden pocket around the tooth to fight the infection. Left untreated, the abscess may become so large that it leads to swelling in the face and anatomical deformity.
While oral infections are often caused by periodontal disease, they often happen secondary to trauma in the mouth. Trauma may be due to injury from chewing on hard or sharp objects.
Dogs that are powerful chewers can fracture their teeth chewing on very hard plastic, antlers or bones. Most vets will recommend against allowing your dog to chew on anything harder than what you would want to bang hard on your knee.
Size of chews can also factor into the occurrence of tooth fractures - a chew that's too large for a dog's mouth may make the tooth and chew line up that breaks the outside of a tooth (known as a slab fracture).
Your veterinarian may recommend pick chews, which are small enough to hold in the mouth without swallowing by accident. However, these are not so large that your dog will need to have a fully open mouth to safely chew on them.
Preventing Dental Issues in Dogs
The most reliable way to help prevent the development of dental problems with your dog's teeth is routine brushing and cleaning of your cat's mouth. You'll give your dog a much better chance of having healthier teeth and gums if plaque is brushed away before it can cause damage or infection.
To keep your pup's teeth in great condition and their breath fresh, schedule your pet for a professional dental examination and cleaning once a year. Pet dental appointments at Aurora Veterinary Hospital are similar to taking your animal for an appointment at the veterinary dog or cat dentist. We can also treat any emerging dental health issues your dog may be experiencing.
While there is technically no such thing as a "veterinary dentist", our veterinarians do provide dental care for pets in and near Seattle.
To prevent oral health issues from developing in the first place, you should start cleaning your dog's teeth and gums when they are still a puppy and will be able to quickly adapt to the process. You may also consider adding dog dental chews to their routine.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.