February is designated by the American Veterinary Medical Association as National Pet Dental Health Month. This subject is vitally important for all dog owners, and awareness can prevent your dog from having poor dental hygiene.
– This helpful and informative article is written by renowned veterinarian and author Dr. Doug Mader. At the end of this article, read more about Dr. Mader. –
The American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS) reports that 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by the time they are only 3 years old.
In fact, diseases of the teeth and gums are the most common diseases seen in small animal veterinary hospitals (statistics provided by the pet health insurance industry). Paying close attention to your pet and following your vet’s recommendations are the best ways to ensure your dog will have a healthy mouth.
What is Periodontal Disease in Dogs?
Periodontal disease is a condition in which periodontitis bacteria infect a dog’s mouth. Typically, there won’t be any signs of the disease early on, which is why it is crucial to stay on top of your dog’s dental health from the start. Dogs need their teeth and mouths cleaned the same way humans do, to prevent bacteria from causing damage.
What Causes Periodontal Disease in Dogs?
Periodontal disease is caused by a build-up of plaque or tartar. Imagine never brushing your teeth or visiting the dentist. When unchecked, harmful bacteria can trigger bone loss, infection, loss of teeth, and other problems extending beyond oral health.
Common Symptoms of Periodontal Disease in Dogs
Bad breath, or “doggie breath,” is the first stage of dental disease in dogs and other pets. This is the result of an accumulation of tartar and plaque buildup near the gums, a condition called gingivitis. Red lines along the edges of the teeth instead of the normal, healthy bright pink color, signify the beginning of gingivitis.
Other signs, aside from bad breath, that your dog may have gingivitis or periodontal disease are excessive or unusual drooling and pawing at the mouth and face. You may also notice cracking, bleeding, or swelling of the lips, especially at the corners of the mouth, and fur loss around the side of the oral cavity.
These are all signs you should bring your dog for an oral examination as soon as possible. In severe cases, you might observe your dog having difficulty eating, which might include a hard time chewing, or a decrease or lack of appetite. These changes in your dog’s behavior will be very noticeable, as your dog will likely act very differently than usual.
If you are able to look inside your dog’s mouth on your own you may see bleeding and inflammation of the gums, tartar and plaque on the teeth, loose teeth, discolored teeth (anywhere from grey to blue to yellow), or cracked or broken teeth. In some cases, you may even notice tooth fractures and tooth loss.
Periodontitis can be very painful, and your dog may not let you touch its face. To avoid causing your dog pain, bring them to the vet and have a proper treatment.
Are Golden Retrievers Prone to Periodontal Disease?
Some breeds are more prone to dental problems than others. Depending on the source, common breeds that appear on the list more often than others include the Pug, Yorkshire Terrier, Sheltie, Chihuahua, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Greyhound, and Dachshund.
Brachycephalic breeds, or breeds with a smushed face, and Dolichocephalic breeds, or breeds with a very long face, experience dental health issues at a much higher rate than breeds with an “average” mouth size.
All dogs have 42 teeth, regardless of how big or small their mouth is. Therefore, dog breeds with longer or shorter snouts will experience health issues more commonly, as they will either have too much room between their teeth or not enough room to fit all of their teeth comfortably. This makes breeds like Golden Retrievers, for example, less likely to experience tooth-related problems.
Treatment Options for Periodontal Disease in Dogs
Gingivitis, which is actually caused by a bacterial infection of the pet’s gums, can be treated if caught early. If left untreated, the bacteria begin to move deeper under the gum line, where they infect the teeth at their roots.
This can lead to pyorrhea or periodontitis. At this advanced stage, there is typically gum recession and loosening of the teeth. A thorough dental exam and professional dental cleaning are the cornerstones of properly treating gingivitis in the early stages of periodontal disease.
Treatment of severe or advanced periodontal disease may involve extractions of teeth that have become infected. After extraction, your dog will likely be prescribed antibiotics as needed to help control the infection, and pain medication to counteract chronic pain.
Dental disease can be EXTREMELY painful. If left untreated, the bacterial infection can spread to the bones, where it can cause osteomyelitis in the jaw bone or even bone loss. Ultimately, the infection can enter the bloodstream, where the bacteria may cause damage to the liver, kidney disease, or even heart disease.
Veterinarians use an ultrasonic scaler to clean your dog’s teeth, a process that is very similar to what humans experience when they go to the dentist.
Just as in people, dental X-rays are the gold standard and should be taken whenever a dog dental cleaning is performed. X-rays are needed to evaluate the crowns and the tooth roots for any possible tooth decay. It is necessary to put your dog under a general anesthesia for a proper dental procedure to allow cleaning and x-rays without causing any pain or stress. With proper health screening, anesthesia is safe, and any potential risks far outweigh the danger of leaving a diseased mouth untreated.
As important as the cleaning, a dog’s teeth need to be polished after the cleaning process. Polishing removes micro scratches in the enamel that predisposes the teeth to future dental tartar and plaque build-up. Make sure to ask your veterinarian if he or she polishes the teeth with every dental cleaning. If not, find a veterinarian that does.
Preventing Periodontal Disease in Dogs
Prevention is always better than treatment. There are select chew toys and dental chews that may be suitable for your dog. When shopping for dental treats or chew toys, be careful to choose brands that are approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). This will ensure the toys and treats you are purchasing are safe for your pet. But toys and treats won’t solve all of your pet’s dental health problems.
Even more effective at preventing disease than toys is brushing teeth, the same way humans do. You can avoid dental procedures, if you make it a regular practice to brushing your dog’s teeth at home. Though not as effective as a periodic professional cleaning, keeping your dog’s teeth cleaned by brushing will greatly improve the overall health of their teeth and gums.
Brushing your dog’s teeth is simple and takes only a few minutes. Your veterinarian can teach you how to train your dog to allow daily brushing. There are also several great videos on YouTube that demonstrate how to brush your dog’s teeth.
In Conclusion …
Pet Dental Health Month is a reminder to care for your dog’s mouth as you do your own. By following the advice of your vet and implementing good dental care at home, you can save your dog a lot of pain and trauma.
About Dr. Doug Mader
Dr. Doug Mader is a triple board-certified veterinary specialist and has been a veterinarian for nearly four decades. He is the author of The Vet at Noah’s Ark. He is an internationally recognized speaker, has written three best-selling medical textbooks, and numerous scientific publications. He has had long-standing pet columns in the Long Beach Press Telegram, Reptiles magazine, and the Key West Citizen. Dr. Mader is the recipient of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Conservation Award, the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Achievement Award, and the Fred L. Frye Lifetime Achievement Award for Veterinary Medicine. He is a seven-time winner of the North American Veterinary Community Speaker of the Year award and a four-time winner of the Western Veterinary Conference Educator of the Year award. He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine in the United Kingdom. Dr. Mader is Human Animal Bond Certified and practiced in California for many years, but today lives and works in the Florida Keys.