When it comes to taking care of their dog's health, most pet owners think about vaccinations, regular vet visits, nutritious food, and exercise. Unfortunately, an oral care regimen isn't a top priority for them. But it should be: 4 out of 5 dogs over age 3 develop periodontal disease.*
The fact that so many dogs eventually develop periodontal disease is startling. But in some cases, the problem can be even more serious: It's been shown that periodontal disease, if left untreated, is associated with the development of other serious health problems for a dog. This happens because bacteria from the mouth may enter the bloodstream and spread to the heart, lung, kidneys, and other organs.
As you can see, proper oral care for your dog is about more than just fresher breath and white teeth.
How Teeth and Gum Problems Begin
Every time your dog eats, food particles stick to his teeth -- and where there's food, there's bacteria. If not removed, food particles mix with saliva and bacteria to form plaque.
Within a few days, plaque calcifies and hardens into tartar (sometimes called calculus). Tartar also provides a home for more plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums, and may result in a common condition known as gingivitis.
Warning signs of gingivitis include:
- Bad breath
- Reddening and swelling of the gums where they meet the teeth
- Bleeding of the gums
Gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums, is a beginning stage of periodontal disease. Once gingivitis develops, the gums begin to recede and separate from the teeth. The space between them can become filled with even more food and bacteria, thereby exacerbating the problem. Gingivitis is reversible with proper oral care. If left untreated, however, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, a non-reversible stage of periodontal disease. This condition can result in bone and tooth loss, as well as infection. For these reasons, it's important to begin an oral care routine early in your dog's life—and then maintain it on a daily basis.
Tips for Better Oral Care
The best way to help keep your dog's teeth clean is to brush them daily. You'll find a variety of specially designed toothbrushes for dogs at your local pet specialty store, or you can use a very soft human toothbrush. But be sure to use only toothpaste that is developed for dogs. Toothpaste made for humans contains fluoride and detergents that can be harmful when swallowed by your dog.
Regular Veterinary Exams and Cleanings
In addition to toothbrushing, regular dental exams and cleanings by your veterinarian will help to keep your dog's mouth healthy. Your vet can help spot and treat problems before they become more serious issues.
The Role of Diet in Better Oral Care
What you feed your dog can have a significant impact on the health of his teeth and gums.
Studies show that, in general, dry food helps keep teeth clean by reducing plaque and tartar accumulation on the teeth.
Avoid Feeding Your Dog Table Scraps
Your dog may love table scraps, but human food provides extra calories, and increases the buildup of plaque and tartar on your dog's teeth.
With proper daily oral care and a healthy diet, you can make a positive difference in the health of your dog's teeth and gums. In addition, you should maintain a regular schedule of veterinarian appointments. Your vet will examine your dog's teeth and gums and treat them, if and when necessary. If you notice signs of gingivitis or periodontal disease in your dog's mouth, make an appointment with your vet right away.
*American Veterinary Medical Association