According to a recent study, 78% of dogs over the age of three suffer from some form of dental disease, making it the most common health problem affecting dogs.
When many owners think of dental disease, they picture a little tooth staining and some bad breath, but unfortunately that is not the case.
The term "dental disease" can describe a range of different conditions including:
- An accumulation of saliva, food, and bacteria called plaque on the surface of teeth
- A hardening of plaque into tartar
- Gum inflammation and infection otherwise known as gingivitis
- Damage to the tissues that surround the teeth called periodontal disease
- Tooth root abscesses
- Loose teeth that may eventually fall out
- Broken teeth
Dogs with dental disease do frequently have bad breath and discolored teeth, but they may also drool excessively, lose weight, have red gums that bleed easily or drain pus, suffer from oral pain, and have pockets of pus that drain onto the surface of the face or into the nose, which in turn causes sneezing and nasal discharge. The infection and inflammation associated with dental disease can also spread throughout the body and adversely affect the liver, kidneys and heart.
As the saying goes, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," and this is certainly true when dealing with canine dental disease. The best way to prevent dental disease is to clean your dog’s teeth daily using a pet toothpaste or gel applied to a soft bristle toothbrush, a finger brush, or even a piece of gauze or washcloth. If tooth brushing isn’t feasible, owners can turn to oral rinses, drinking water additives or dental treats.
Another very convenient way of promoting your dog’s oral health is to him a food specifically designed to remove plaque and tartar from the teeth. Research has shown that simply feeding a dry food does not do the trick. Look for foods that carry the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal. These products have undergone testing with regards to their efficacy in removing plaque and/or tartar and the results are reviewed and certified by VOHC.
Of course you still want the food you choose to provide the precise balance of all the nutrients your dog needs to stay healthy. The MyBowl tool can be used to evaluate any type of dog food, including dental diets.
Even with appropriate home care, most dogs still do require professional dental cleanings from time to time, but they will need them less frequently than they might otherwise. Dental cleanings should be performed under general anesthesia by a licensed veterinarian. This allows the entire mouth to be evaluated and any problems that are noted can be dealt with appropriately.
Don’t ignore dental disease just because it is hidden from view. Your dog depends on you to help keep his whole body healthy.
Dr. Jennifer Coates