How do I know if my dog has dental disease?
Plaque on the teeth hardens to form a yellowish-brown deposit (tartar), which is visible on the surface of the tooth. In advanced cases, a layer of grey-brown concrete-like deposit covers the teeth. The commonest sign is smelly breath. Your pet may be slower to eat than normal, or may not eat at all. Your dog may dribble, sometimes with blood, or paw at or rub the mouth. However, other illnesses such as kidney disease can cause mouth pain and for this reason your vet may want to take a blood test.
Why does it matter?
Tartar causes inflammation of the gum (gingivitis) and eventually the gum recedes and loosens the tooth. An abscess may form and there is a risk that bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause damage to organs such as the kidneys, heart and liver. Dental care removes the tartar, though without home care it will reform. It also means that your dog is a sweeter-smelling companion and it probably improves the taste of its dinner!
How can dental disease be treated?
A general anesthetic will be needed, because without this your pet will not keep still. Many petswith advanced dental disease are elderly but, even so, with modern anesthetic techniques, there is little risk. First, tartar is removed with an ultrasonic scaling machine. Then any loose or broken teeth are taken out. This is more difficult in animals than in people. Dogs' teeth are more firmly attached in the sockets and many of the molar (back) teeth have two or three roots. Finally, the remaining teeth are polished. Home care and regular check ups at the vet are vital to prevent rapid recurrence.
How many teeth will have to come out?
It is not possible to tell until your dog has had a thorough examination under anesthetic. Don't worry! Even if your pet has a lot of teeth removed, it will still be able to eat normally within a few days.
Will a change in diet help?
It's true that most modern dog foods are softer and less abrasive than the foods dogs eat in the wild. You can buy special diets from the vet, which reduce plaque build-up to some extent. Avoid hard things that may break the teeth. Dental chews are helpful, but choose ones that are tough and flexible. Mouth washes and gels are also available and have some limited effect. However, the best way to care for your pet's teeth is daily brushing.
Ideally start when your dog is a puppy, although even older dogs can be trained to accept tooth brushing. With adult dogs, look at the teeth first. Plaque in dogs hardens to form yellow-brown concrete-like material. If this is present, then the teeth will need cleaning by a vet to make brushing effective. Toothbrushes can be obtained from the vet or petshop, including finger brushes and puppy brushes. Human toothbrushes can be used for bigger dogs. Pick a time when your pet is quiet and relaxed. Begin by getting your pet used to having its muzzle gently held, with your thumb at the bottom and fingers on top. Do not press too hard, as this is likely to make your pet struggle. Once your pet is comfortable with this, introduce the brush without toothpaste to get your dog used to the feel. Dip the toothbrush in something tasty, such as gravy, before you start. Don't open the mouth as this may make your pet resist. Use your fingers to lift the upper lip, then slide in the toothbrush. Move it gently in a circular fashion, concentrating on the gum line, as this is where plaque tends to persist. Start by doing just a few teeth, as your dog may not stay still for long. As your pet gets used to the procedure, you should be able to do the whole mouth including the teeth at the back. If you can, open the mouth and clean the insides of the teeth. Many dogs don't like this (fortunately the tongue cleans the insides of the teeth fairly well anyway). Always finish on a positive note with a reward. If your dog starts to get impatient, stop, get it to sit quietly, and then praise it. Once your pet is used to the procedure, then you need to get dog toothpaste (human ones are too frothy). As dogs often lick toothpaste off the brush, you need to press it well down onto the bristles before you begin.
- Brushing is the most effective way of cleaning teeth
- If brushing is impossible get special dental chews. Chews should be not hard, but `chewy' tough but flexible.
- Chunks of crunchy vegetables are good too
- Don't give bones as they may break teeth
- Diets with plaque reducing properties are available, but TOOTHBRUSHING IS BEST.