Your dog’s dental health is critical to their overall well being. IBA Member Darryl of Doggy Dream Team shares insights into caring for your fur babies’ teeth.
Dog owners, time is precious, so do you need to read this article?
To find out, answer the following question:
Q: 80% of all dogs suffer from dental disease…but from what age?
- Dogs aged 12 years or over
- Dogs aged 8 years or over
- Dogs aged 3 years or over.
The sobering truth is that 80% of dogs aged just 3 years old or over, suffer from dental disease. If you want your dog to buck this trend…read on.
#1: Why is Dental Disease so Common in Dogs
When was the last time you forgot to brush your teeth? How did your teeth feel?
Sticky. Rough. Not very nice.
This is because brushing rubs away a sticky compound called plaque. This is a combination of food sludge, bacteria, and natural ‘glues’. Yewh! And get this…it only takes hours to form.
Now think about dogs. Do you brush your dog’s teeth? Unless you brush daily plaque coats their teeth, just itching to cause problems. After three years of dirty teeth, it’s no wonder dogs get sore gums, bad breath, and wobbly teeth.
#2: How Does Plaque Cause Dental Disease?
Now imagine you never brush your teeth. The next step in this grisly tale is that the minerals found in saliva work on plaque to harden it to tartar. This is the cream-yellow hard deposit that looks a lot like enamel, but isn’t.
Leave tartar undisturbed and like a ice-box that needs defrosting, the tartar builds and builds. Just as the ice eventually grows so big it won’t let the door close, so the tartar pushes against the gums causing recession.
Also, that tartar is rich in bacteria. Once the gum is inflamed, this weakens its natural defences, and if effect puts out the welcome mat for bacteria to cause gum infections.
Unhealthy gums start to recede, which means the teeth are no longer properly anchored. This leads to tooth root abscesses, wobbly teeth, and pain.
#3: Does your Dog have Dental Disease?
With dental disease is common, so is your dog affected. Check out the following which are all signs a problem is brewing:
- Bad breath: Do you recoil from your four-legger’s licks?
- Smelly saliva: Does anything the dog licks smell bad afterwards?
- Difficulty eating: The signs can be subtle but include:
- Eating more on one side of the mouth than the other
- Dropping food out of the mouth
- Leaving a mess around the food bowl
- Asking for food but not eating it
- Pawing at the mouth
- Brown staining on the teeth
- Thick creamy-yellow tartar that pushes against the gums
- A red line where the gum meets the teeth
- Bleeding gums
- Ulcers where the lip rests against the teeth
- A swollen face
- The dog flinches when you try to check their teeth
What you do next depends on how bad the doggy dental disease is.
#4: How Bad is the Dental Disease?
Start by checking your mouth in the mirror. What do you see?
Hopefully you have pink gums with no angry line of inflammation where it meets the crowns and not brown staining on the teeth.
This is also what a healthy dog’s mouth should look like. Congratulations if your best buddy’s mouth looks like this. You’re doing well so keep up the good work BUT check out #5 to keep things that way.
At the other end of the spectrum is the dog with breath so bad that it clears the room. A bacteria-laden mouth with sore gums and tartar needs to see a vet. This is because there’s a real risk of bacteria entering the bloodstream via the inflamed tissue. If you try brushing tissue that’s already bleeding, the risk of blood poisoning increases. Hand this one over to the vet for professional cleaning.
The half-way house is the dirty mouth that has some tartar but the gums are OK. (If in doubt, get a dental check with a vet tech or veterinarian). You have wriggle room here to improve the dog’s dental hygiene and dodge the pain-in-the-wallet of a professional descale and polish. [See #5]
#5: Good Habits to Get Into
OK, so you want to take control of your dog’s dental issues. Here’s how.
- Tooth Brushing: Just as for our teeth, this is the gold standard. But here’s the rub: Always use toothpaste designed for dogs. Never use human toothpaste as the fluoride content is toxic to dogs. Brush at least once daily…remember, dog teeth are not different to yours
- Dental Diets: Some kibbles are made so that they have a cleaning effect when the dog chomps down on each biscuit. For maximum effect, feed dental foods exclusively. The benefit diminishes when other foods make up most of the diet
- Choose Dry Diets: Wet food is most sticky and glues itself to teeth. Dry food is more abrasive and has a mild scrubbing action. Whilst dry food alone won’t prevent dental disease, it helps slow up tartar formation.
- Dental Chews: Chewing is nature’s way of keeping teeth clean. Harness the instinct to chew by providing dog dental chews that work. But not all chews are created equal. For best value look for a chew the dog really get their teeth into, rather than swallow in a flash.
- Dog Mouthwash: There are lots of doggy oral hygiene products available. The most effective ones contain chlorhexidine and reduce the number of bacteria swilling around the mouth. Try dampening a cotton swab with the product and wiping it round the mouth twice daily. Some formulations even come in a handy spritz spray.
#6: What Works and What Doesn’t (and How to Know the Difference)
Not everything that claims to help dental health actually does so. There are lots of products out there from breath fresheners to herbal food supplements that don’t have research or data to back up their claims.
If a product sounds too good to be true, and can’t provide evidence to back up the claim, then it probably isn’t worth buying. A good reference point is the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). They take dental health seriously and have put many products through their paces. If it gets the VOHC seal of approval then you can be sure it works.
A few words of caution about some popular options for clean teeth.
- Raw Meaty Bones: Yes, a raw diet does seem to promote cleaner teeth. But be aware this can come at risk to human health. A high percentage of raw diets contain bacteria that are infectious to people, and the latest research shows these bugs are often antibiotic resistant.
- Antler and Hooves: Again, yes, these do promote clean teeth, but…and it’s a big BUT…they are also damaging to teeth. Veterinary dental specialists have seen a surge in dogs referred to them for the treatment of fractured teeth caused by chowing down on antlers or hooves. Don’t take the risk.
#7: A Final Thought: Dental Disease is a Welfare Issue
Do you want your dog to be in pain?
Of course not!
Then why tolerate dental disease.
Anyone who has suffered from toothache knows it’s excruciating. Dogs are no different. Whether it’s painful gums or the bone-aching throb of a root abscess, they suffer dental pain just like us. You wouldn’t tolerate a dog suffering the pain of a broken bone, so why is a painful mouth any different?
And the thing is dental disease is avoidable…or at least the risk can be vastly reduced.
Save your pet pain and dodge those big vet bills but taking care of your pet pal’s gnashers.
Do whatever you can, whether that’s tooth brushing from puppyhood, through to special chews or dental diets for dogs. Time spent on keeping those pearly whites sparkling benefits the dog’s comfort and your peace of mind.
About the Author
Hello! We are the Doggy Dream Team Blog. We’re a team of dog owners and dog lovers on a mission to give you simple and actionable advice on health, lifestyle and nutrition for dogs.