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Dog Dentistry 101: Dental Issues to Look for in your Dog

Dogs need dental care just like cats and humans! Caring for their teeth daily can help to prevent other oral health problems. In honour of Pet Dental Health Month, we go over how to watch for the signs and symptoms of dental issues as well as inform you about the dental diseases dogs can have that, if left untreated, may require a visit to a dog hospital.

Dental Diseases in Dogs

Tooth decay is very common among humans but is rare in dogs. The most common dental issues seen in dogs are fractured teeth and periodontal disease, also known as gum disease. Although there are no outward signs or symptoms in the beginning of gum disease, once it has advanced it can cause your dog to experience chronic pain, eroded gums, and missing teeth. Periodontal disease is so common that over 80% of dogs over the age of three are known to have it. It is 5 times more often to happen in dogs than in humans.

There is Such a Thing as Bad Doggie Breath: Halitosis

Most people don’t think highly of their dog’s breath daily, but if your dog’s breath is worse than normal, it could be halitosis. Halitosis is caused by a build-up of foul-smelling bacteria in the mouth, lungs, or gut. If your dog has halitosis, it can mean that there could be something wrong in their gastrointestinal tract, liver, or kidneys, or it just means they need better dog dental care. Either way, it’s always better to get your pup checked out by their veterinarian to be sure. Halitosis usually appears if the dog has gum disease, an infection, or tooth decay.

If you detect these smells in your dog’s breath, get them checked right away:

  • Unusually sweet or fruity: can indicate diabetes, especially if your dog is drinking and peeing more than normal.
  • Urine: a sign of kidney disease.
  • Unusual foul odor: a liver problem, especially if accompanied by vomiting, lack of appetite, and yellow-tinged eyes.

What is Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease in dogs is the inflammation or infection of the tissues or gums surrounding the tooth. It’s caused by the buildup of plaque and tartar, which causes periodontal pockets or receding gums around where the tooth is attached. If left untreated, the infection will make things worse for your dog. 

Plaque and Tartar Buildup

As we all know, mouths are full of thousands of bacteria which multiply on the surface of the tooth, forming an invisible layer which is the plaque (or biofilm). A dog’s tongue and chewing habits can remove some of the plaque.

However, the plaque can thicken, becoming mineralized and creating tartar if it’s allowed to remain on the tooth’s surface. The tartar builds up below and above the gum line which can lead to inflammation (gingivitis). Further plaque buildup can lead to periodontal disease. 

What Can Factor in the Development of Dental Diseases in Dogs?

  • Age and general health: dogs at any age can develop dental diseases, but the most commonly affected are adult and senior dogs.
  • Diet and chewing behavior: canned dog food rather than hard kibbles is not that good at keeping plaque from accumulating. Various toys or treats may also be contributing to some of the buildup.
  • Tooth alignment: while dogs with their teeth often crowded together (often in smaller breeds) are at greater risk of developing dental diseases, all dogs whether their teeth are straight or crooked are at risk. This is one reason why daily brushing is so important!
  • Home care: if you are not taking regular care of your dog’s teeth at home by brushing daily (if possible), this increases the risk of dental diseases as well as the amount of plaque and tartar buildup in their mouth. 

Signs and Symptoms of Oral Health Issues in Dogs

  • Problems with eating hard food
  • Red/swollen gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Persistent bad breath
  • “Talking” or making noises when they eat or yawn
  • Bumps or lumps in the mouth
  • Ropey saliva
  • Favouring one side of the mouth while chewing
  • Withdrawing from being touched
  • Sensitivity around the mouth
  • Stomach or intestinal upsets
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Weight loss

You should take your pooch to a dog hospital at once if you see these signs and symptoms of dental problems:

  • Bad breath
  • Red, swollen, painful or bleeding gums
  • Change in eating or chewing habits
  • Visible tartar on the gum line
  • Bumps or growths in their mouth
  • Pawing at their face or mouth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Missing, discoloured, broken, or misaligned teeth

Prevention

Dental diseases in dogs may be common but each one we’ve mentioned is preventable! Doing your best brush your dog’s teeth at least once a day is recommended. If for some reason you are unable to do so yourself, there are toys and treats that can help. It’s best to get help from your vet if your dog resists or refuses to have their teeth cleaned. When in doubt, ask your family veterinarian about dog dental care, report any teeth issues you may have noticed, and make it a point to have your pooch checked regularly. 

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Hastings Veterinary Clinic and a clickable link back to this page.

The Importance of Pet Oral and Dental Care

The year has well and truly begun and New Year resolutions are the entire craze. While we may have set many personal and professional goals for ourselves, it is important to set goals for our little four-legged friends too. Dogs and cats don’t really need to plan on quitting smoking or be in charge of their gym and play schedules. And they definitely do not know the importance of brushing their teeth every night.

While you may set more than one resolution in order to get your pet a healthy lifestyle, an important one to include would be improved pet dental and oral care. Dental disease is the most commonly recorded medical problem during vet visits for both cats and dogs. Like for our own health, good pet health care starts with the mouth.

So, how can you improve your pet’s oral and dental health? In addition to brushing the teeth daily (using a dog or cat toothbrush and toothpaste), it is important to make healthy choices when it comes to dental treats and chew toys. Ensure that such treats and toys are safe for your pet based on ingredients and the size, temperament, and needs of your pet.

Also, it would be wise to take your pet to your veterinarian for a detailed dental and oral exam. This will help assess if your pet needs a dental cleaning (ideally under general anesthesia) prior to initiating a routine oral care program. Most veterinary clinics offer dental exam and dentistry discounts this time of the year, in order to increase awareness regarding dental disease in pets. Be sure to make the most of this opportunity to initiate a conversation and learn more about oral care from a veterinarian.

Most pet store dental chews and treats will work for healthy pets, along with daily teeth brushing. If your pet has been diagnosed with a medical condition or if tooth brushing is not an option due to a lack of compliance by your pet, a diet such as Hill’s T /D or Royal Canin Medical Dental formula may be right for your pet.

It is important to remember that regular teeth brushing is vital. If you brush your pets’ teeth any less than every other day, you are better off not brushing them at all. A good pet oral health program is literally in your own hands.

By – Dr. Jangi Bajwa, DVM
Hastings Veterinary Clinic, Burnaby.

Ask an Expert: Why Does My Pet Have Bad Breath?

Q: Why does my pet have bad breath?

A: Pets have bad breath (halitosis) for a number of reasons. The most common and most obvious cause is: dental problems.

The gold standard of oral care for pets is teeth brushing, mornings and evenings. I recommend brushing a pet’s teeth at least once a day, and getting oral checkups with your veterinarian at least once a year. Depending on their breed, age and oral care program, pets need veterinarian-supervised dental cleanings every 1-3 years.

Dental diets and dental treats also help maintain good oral health in pets.

Other causes of bad breath include gastric or kidney illness and viral infections to name a few.

Dogs Need Dental Care Too! What to do for a Broken Tooth

Like us humans, dog teeth may occasionally be fractured, chipped, or cracked. Their teeth should be cared for like we care for ours. Regular dog dental care can help prevent other health problems.

Brushing your dog’s teeth and periodically lifting the lips to look around the teeth and gums are some good practices to do at home. Dog teeth are tough, but like ours they can break and depending on the severity, can be quite serious.

What is a Fractured Tooth?

A fractured tooth is one that is broken or cracked, like a fractured bone in humans. It can be caused by major or minor trauma to the face during playing or fighting, or by chewing on hard objects such as rocks, bones, sticks, wire fences, and cages.

Anatomy of a Dog’s Tooth

A dog’s tooth structure is made up of pulp, dentin, enamel, alveolar bone, periodontal ligaments, cementum, gingiva, and lateral canal.

Inside the dog’s tooth is the “pulp canal,” which goes to the root. A deep break can expose the pulp and provide an access point for bacteria to enter and can cause a systemic infection and abscess.

Signs and Symptoms of Fractured Teeth

Affected dogs will drool, shake their head, rub their face with their paws and/or stop eating, as well as be lethargic and irritable. They will generally exhibit a feeling of discomfort. They may have a swollen jaw and their gums may be noticeably swollen. In some cases, the tooth can “die,” and the normal white colour will turn into a grayish-brown.

Most Common Break

The most commonly fractured is the canine (fang) tooth, followed by the upper fourth molar, which is the largest in the back top of the dog’s mouth. Premolars and molars are most commonly fractured due to chewing objects while the canines and incisors are most commonly fractured due to trauma.

When to See Your Vet

Fractured and broken teeth need to be repaired or removed as quickly as possible. If you notice any of these signs being exhibited by your pooch, contact your veterinarian’s office immediately:

  • Bad breath
  • Change in eating or chewing habits
  • Pawing at the face or mouth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Missing teeth or misaligned
  • Discoloured, broken, or missing teeth
  • Red, swollen, painful, or bleeding gums
  • Tartar on the gum line
  • Bumps or growths in the mouth

Treatment of a Fractured Tooth

Not all broken teeth require treatment. It depends on what part of the tooth is involved and the extent of the damage. Extraction may be necessary in the most severe cases to prevent infection, especially in geriatric dogs. If the pulp canal is not affected, you can talk to your veterinarian to see what they recommend regarding sharp edges of chipped teeth.

When the problem is a more complicated tooth fracture, involving the pulp, endodontic treatment is needed which may be a root canal or extraction. A root canal can save the tooth and is less invasive and traumatic for your dog. Again, speak to your veterinarian for recommendations before dog dental care is given, as well as to receive further instruction on their food before and after endodontic treatment.

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to the Hastings Veterinary Clinic and a clickable link back to this page.

Protect Your Pet’s Oral Health With Dog Dental Care

Protect your pet’s oral health with dog dental care services to keep your dog’s gums and teeth healthy and pain-free. Some owners neglect this aspect of pet care because of their mistaken impression that animals don’t need the help of dentists since their teeth don’t require any special care. Not true. Read more