Dental disease is very common in dogs. It is thought to occur in at least 85% of dogs over 5 years of age!
The problem often remains hidden as looking in your dog’s mouth is not always easy. Issues can develop very gradually and can therefore be overlooked or attributed to age or concurrent diseases. Over time, plaque/tartar, bacteria and their breakdown products accumulate around the teeth. Gum disease (gingivitis) then periodontal disease can occur. These can have effects on other areas of the body such as the kidneys and heart. We will also find other mouth problems, including broken teeth and tumours (some benign, some not) which need attention.
How do you recognise dental disease in your dog?
Apart from bad breath, in the earliest stages of dental disease you may notice a build-up of plaque – which is a soft off-white material on the teeth. This can be removed by brushing. Later this becomes brown and mineralises to form hard tartar (also called dental calculus). The gums may appear red and inflamed (gingivitis), and later the gum margins start to recede exposing the roots of the teeth and larger areas of inflammation and ulcers may be present. When the tissues that support the teeth are involved, it is called periodontal disease and the teeth become loose and eventually fall out. Painful tooth root abscesses may also form.
Is dental disease serious?
YES, dental disease is serious for two main reasons:
Dogs with dental disease will be in discomfort or pain. Animals always try to hide problems, therefore, only some will show obvious signs of pain including:
- Difficulty eating, especially hard biscuit or pawing/rubbing at the mouth
- Resent being handled around the head
- The jaw may ‘chatter’ when touched
- They may be irritable
- Sometimes bacteria associated with dental disease travel via the bloodstream to cause infections in other parts of the body, including the kidneys and the heart.
Dental disease is preventable
Brushing to remove plaque and tartar can help to prevent the establishment of serious dental problems, including periodontal disease. The nurses can help you; make an appointment if you want to learn how to brush your pet’s teeth.
If you suspect your pet already has dental problem, you should make an appointment with your vet.
Your vet or nurse can advise you on the best way to prevent dental disease.
Specialist prescription diets and lifestage diets have been formulated to help, plus certain normal diets such as Hills T/D and Hills Vet Essentials have special components to help keep clean teeth.
Many dogs will allow their owners to brush their teeth, introducing the idea gradually. There are also dental gels and chews that will help.
Remember, Pet Health for Life plan members qualify for discounts on lifestage diets, examinations, in-house laboratory work, and dental work and shop items such as toothpaste, brushes and dental chews. In addition, many other benefits. Look at joining today!
Treating dental disease in dogs
If dental disease has reached an advanced stage, there are a number of treatment options:
Your vet may recommend:
- A blood sample prior to having dental work to check that your pet is fit and well enough for an anaesthetic; that there are no other underlying problems that could be making things worse, e.g. kidney disease.
- A dental, scale and polish, plus extractions, as needed are performed under a general anaesthetic.
- If infection is well established, antibiotics may have to be prescribed before and/or after dental treatment.
- Pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications are also often required.
- Dogs can still eat a wide variety of foods, often including hard kibble, even with no teeth. The most important thing is that they have a comfortable, healthy mouth.
However, as some of these procedures need a general anaesthetic, it is best to try to keep their teeth clean, rather than rely on anaesthetics and dental scaling, if possible.