Keeping Teeth and Gums Healthy
Our four-legged friends also use their mouth and teeth to groom both themselves and their housemates. When it comes to moving things around in his environment — a bone, a blanket, a ball — a healthy mouth is a dog's best tool.
Providing regular dental care by brushing your dog's teeth once a day and giving him the right diet will help keep his teeth clean and free of infection. This also benefits self-grooming. Dogs use their front teeth to lick and bite close to the skin when there's an itch they just can't scratch any other way.
According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80 percent of dogs show signs of dental disease by age three. By the time they're five years old, most dogs already have gum disease and jawbone loss. Bad breath could be an early warning sign of gingivitis a dangerous gum disease.
Taking care of your dog's teeth helps prevent long-term health problems in other organs, such as the heart, kidneys, and liver. When bacteria and their toxins remain in the mouth they can enter the bloodstream, lungs, stomach, and intestines.
Periodontal disease is one of the most serious health problems for older dogs. It suppresses the immune system and leads to other diseases, and the consequences can be life threatening. This doesn't happen overnight. After years of neglecting daily oral hygiene, plaque — a composite of saliva, bits of food, and bacteria — begins to accumulate on the surface of the teeth. These materials exert pressure on the gums and cause inflammation and receding gums. This creates a pocket between the gums and the teeth where debris can collect, which loosens the teeth and causes them to fall out. An abscess develops that can further destroy the root of the tooth.
Smelly Dog Breath
Ever kiss your dog and back away because he has really bad breath? If so, this is a signal that something has gone terribly wrong in his mouth. While this odor is common in many dogs, it doesn't mean that all is well. Far from it. Foul breath is a sign of periodontal disease.
Signs of Periodontal Disease
Red, swollen, or bleeding gums, excessive salivation, and heavy brown film or calculus on your dog's teeth are other symptoms of serious oral problems. The most obvious and serious indicator is if your dog refuses to eat or drops food out of his mouth while he's eating. This doesn't mean that he doesn't like his food. His mouth hurts and he'd rather go hungry than endure the pain. Once this happens, it doesn't take long for his weight to go down and his overall health to decline.
Small Breed Dental Trouble
Small dogs are especially prone to tooth trouble when they're young, and they need you to establish a good dental program for them early in life. Without it, by the time these tiny dogs are oldsters, they may not have any teeth left at all.
Healthy dog teeth are white or slightly yellow. Gums should be light pink. If there's plaque, you'll see a filmy coating with a heavier yellowish buildup from the base of the teeth. Heavy tartar is thick and hard and may be a darker yellow or brown. It's soft enough that you can brush some of it off or scrape it down with your fingernail.
Why is this? Although it doesn't look like it, small dogs have teeth that are proportionately larger than the size of their jaws. The teeth crowd and overlap one another and create odd spaces where food easily becomes trapped. Breeds with very short jaws have even worse problems as teeth turn every which way. The plaque deposits harden into calculus that can only be removed by your veterinarian.
Once this happens, the only way to save the teeth is through hand-scraping under anesthesia or with an ultrasonic cleaner. Many times it's too late and the teeth are too infected or too loose and must be extracted.