Dogs of your youth probably never saw a toothbrush, let alone use one. Yet, we thought they lived happy and healthy lives. So, why do veterinarians today insist on daily oral care? After all, before domestication, for millenniums, dogs lived in the wild without brushing their teeth. Humans did too. However, we both paid a price.
Today, we'll discuss the threats of oral health neglect, and how we can meet and overcome this challenge.
The Physical Threats
Researchers have conducted a series of studies on canine dental health and found that 87% of all dogs over the age of 3 exhibited a serious level of dental disease:
Some of the pernicious health conditions found in the dogs were:
- Build-up of plaque, tartar and calculus (with the accompanying smell)
- Gingivitis and gum disease, causing gum bleeding
- Tooth Loss
By the time they reached the three-year-old threshold, most dogs will show some signs of gum disease, which can affect other parts of the body, such as the heart, liver, and kidney.
Gum Disease is Silent in Dogs. . .
However, pets don't exhibit pain from dental issues as clearly as humans. Your pup could have a mouthful of teeth and gum issues, and still eat their food just fine for years.
According to PetMed.com gum disease is usually silent. At the onset, there are no outward signs and symptoms. Yet once it advances, gum disease can devastate your dog's mouth, causing chronic pain, eroded gums, missing teeth, and bone loss -- a fate hardly fair for man's best friend.
Some of the symptoms
Some symptoms of severe gum disease include:
- Problems picking up food
- Bleeding or red gums
- Loose teeth
- Blood in the water bowl or on chew toys
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- "Talking" or making noises when a dog eats or yawns
- Bumps or lumps in the mouth
- Bloody or ropey saliva
- Not wanting the head touched (head shyness)
- Chewing on one side of the mouth
- Sneezing or nasal discharge (advanced gum disease in the upper teeth can destroy the bone between the nasal and oral cavity)
What to do . . .
Working with your veterinarian, follow these four steps to prevent painful gum disease in your dog:
- Take your dog in for regular oral exams and cleanings. Oral exams with dental X-rays done under general anesthesia are the only way to get a full picture of what's happening in your dog's teeth and below the gum line.
- Brush your dog's teeth every day. You know that the best home care for keeping your pearly whites in top form is daily brushing -- well it's the same for your pooch. While the task may seem a little daunting, it doesn't have to be. Patience, the right tools, and some guidance from your veterinarian can lead most pet owners to success. As a matter of fact, if you take it slow, most dogs and cats, even senior pets, will allow you to brush their teeth with no fuss.
- Feed your dog quality dog food. Some dogs will benefit from "dental diets" that help scrub their teeth as they chew, or from foods that have additives that prevent plaque from hardening. Talk to your vet about what diet is right for your dog.
- Offer safe toys and treats for daily chewing. Chewing every day on tooth-friendly goodies is another way to help prevent gum disease in dogs. Look for treats and toys that aren't hard, like rubber balls, thin rawhide strips that bend, as well as rubbery toys in which you can hide treats. (Beware that hard rawhide can cause gastrointestinal problems if your dog swallows a large piece.)
To prevent fractures and broken teeth, avoid hard treats of any kind, such as animal bones (raw or cooked), nylon bones, or cow and pig hooves.
Daily Dog Teeth Care
The American Kennel Club suggests "12 Steps to Dazzling Dog Teeth":
- Choose a calm time to brush your dog’s teeth. It should be you and the dog without a living room full of active children or other pets.
- Buy a canine toothbrush. These are available at pet stores or online pet supply outlets. They have a longer, curved handle that makes it easy to reach the back teeth. Only use toothpaste that is specifically for dogs. While it works well for us, human toothpaste can irritate your dog’s stomach.
- Choose the location for brushing your dog’s teeth. Make sure you have good lighting.
- Touch the teeth and gums without the brush. Can you do this initial step? Ideally, your pup has been in AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy and Canine Good Citizen classes and is used to have his mouth handled. Lift the top lip up and hold it while you touch the teeth; then pull the bottom lip down and touch the bottom teeth.
- Touch the toothbrush to the teeth. Touch the front, side, and back teeth on the top and bottom. Praise and reward your dog for tolerating this step.
- Introduce the toothpaste to the dog. Start by showing your dog the toothpaste and letting him lick it from your finger.
- Add the toothpaste to the toothbrush.
- Start brushing the top teeth. Hold the upper lip up. Brush the front teeth. Praise your dog.
- Move from the front teeth further back to the side and back teeth on the top.
- Start brushing the bottom teeth. Hold down the bottom lip and brush the bottom teeth. Start with the front teeth, then move to the side and back.
- On the bottom teeth, now brush the sides and back. If your dog is tolerating toothbrushing, you can brush both the outside and inside of the teeth when you are brushing. The inside of the teeth will be a little harder to brush, so if necessary, work on adding this step after your dog is calm with the outsides of the upper and lower teeth being brushed.
- Praise and treats. Getting their teeth brushed is unnatural for dogs. To make this a positive experience, frequently praise your dog. You can also give the dog a treat at each step. This seems counterintuitive because you are cleaning the teeth and then giving some food. However, the initial goal is teaching the skill and later you can work on removing food from the equation.
For a visual on this process, the AKC Vet's Corner has a very thorough video on the topic. It's worth the 5-minute investment of time.