As a pet parent, you work hard to give your dog the best life possible. You feed them high-quality food. You exercise them. You make sure they get their vaccines and protect them from fleas, ticks and other parasites.
But did you know regular dental care plays an important role in your dog’s health?
Periodontal Disease in Dogs: The Dangers of a Dirty Mouth
Unlike people, whose dental issues usually stem from cavities and tooth decay, dogs rarely get cavities. Instead, they more often suffer from periodontal disease (AKA dental disease), which is an infection of the tissue surrounding the teeth.
Periodontal disease is the most common health condition in adult dogs, impacting roughly 80% of dogs over the age of three. And for small breed dogs, trouble can begin even earlier (more on that below).
Effects of Periodontal Disease in Dogs
Why is periodontal disease in dogs a problem? Left untreated, this condition can lead to a wide range of issues, including:
- Bad breath (Believe it or not, a dog’s breath is not supposed to be bad!)
- Mouth pain and discomfort
- Inflamed or bleeding gums
- Tooth loss
- Bone infection
- Increased risk of more serious health problems, such as heart, liver and kidney disease
How Your Dog’s Breed Can Impact Their Dental Health
All dogs are at risk for periodontal disease, but certain factors make some breeds more prone to issues.
Small breed dogs, such as Chihuahuas and Pomeranians, are more likely to have dental issues than most larger dogs. Why? One reason is the size of their mouths.
All dogs, regardless of breed, have 42 adult teeth. That’s a lot to fit into a little mouth! This can cause overcrowding, which makes it easier for food to get stuck between their teeth. So, plaque builds up over time and leads to periodontal disease.
The structure of a dog’s face can also increase the risk of dental issues.
For example, Pugs, Bulldogs and Boston Terriers have short jaws that can cause both overcrowding and misalignment of the teeth. Both of these factors can make it harder to keep teeth clean.
And dogs with long, narrow muzzles, such as Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs and Dachshunds, are prone to overbites or teeth that rotate outward.
DNA testing to determine your dog’s breed and genetic predisposition, as well as talking with your veterinarian, can reveal whether your dog has an increased risk of dental disease.
How to Prevent Dental Disease in Dogs
We probably don’t have to tell you that daily flossing (or any flossing, for that matter) is not a viable option for dogs. But there are a few simple ways you can keep your pup’s teeth clean.
The best thing you can do to prevent periodontal disease in dogs is establish—and stick to—a dental care routine. This should include:
- Regular dental exams by your veterinarian
- Professional dental cleanings
- At-home dental care
Each of these components plays an important role.
Regular Dental Exams
Having a vet check your dog’s teeth at least once a year will allow you to track any changes in the mouth and stay ahead of serious dental health issues. If problems arise, your vet may recommend X-rays to see the roots of the teeth and evaluate your dog’s jaw.
Professional Dental Cleanings
Performed under anesthesia, professional dental cleanings allow your veterinarian or technician to clean not only the visible surface of your dog’s teeth, but also below the gum line. They also give your vet a better opportunity to inspect your dog’s mouth, look for issues and assess the severity of periodontal disease. And it’s while under anesthesia that the vet will remove any broken or infected teeth, if necessary.
At-Home Dental Care
At-home care includes tasks like brushing teeth and providing dental toys or treats. Home care doesn’t replace professional cleanings, but it can help keep your pup’s mouth clean between cleanings and slow down the progression of dental disease.
6 Tips for At-Home Dog Dental Care
It’s up to us as pet owners to take care of our dogs’ teeth on the 364 days that they’re not at the vet. This ideally includes daily teeth-brushing. That may sound like an ambitious goal, but we have some suggestions to make it easier on both you and your dog.
1. Choose the right dog dental care supplies. Use a toothbrush and toothpaste designed specifically for dogs.
2. Start slow. Pick a time when your dog is calm and relaxed. Start by slowly lifting her lip to expose the gums. Once she’s used to her mouth being touched, introduce the toothbrush. Let her sniff it, then gently touch it to her teeth and gums. Put a little toothpaste on your finger and let her lick it off.
3. Brush from front to back. Flip up her lip and begin brushing her top front teeth. As she gets comfortable, start to move toward the back of her mouth. Do the same with her lower teeth. You can limit your brushing to the cheek-side surfaces of the teeth—the inside surfaces don’t build up calculus in the same way as the outsides.
4. Reward a job well done. Make sure you praise your pup while you’re brushing. For the first few times you can even give her treats in between steps. It may seem like giving her food while brushing defeats the purpose, but it can be helpful in reinforcing good behavior. Once she gets used to having her teeth brushed, you can stop the treats.
5. Work up to daily brushing. Start by brushing your dog’s teeth once or twice a week. As she gets more comfortable, you can add additional days. Before you know it, you’ll be in a daily brushing routine.
6. Supplement with toys and treats. In addition to brushing, you can give your dog special dental treats or toys that are designed to help keep teeth clean. These will not only help improve your dog’s dental health, they’ll make her happy as well!
Start Your Dog’s Dental Care Routine Today
Keeping your dog’s teeth healthy may seem daunting. But there’s no time like the present to start. With a little knowledge, patience and consistency—and an ongoing relationship with your veterinarian—you can do your part to keep dangerous periodontal disease at bay.