Dr Jessica May, UK lead vet at the video vet service FirstVet, gives her advice on how to keep dogs’ teeth at their best.
A study from the Royal Veterinary College recently found that the most common canine health complaint is dental disease, closely followed by obesity and ear infections. However, while they are common, dental issues in dogs are often preventable with a good dental hygiene routine. On top of this, spotting signs of dental disease early can also be hugely helpful in preventing these problems from getting out of hand – so it’s a good idea to regularly brush up on what you need to look for.
How to keep teeth clean
The most important thing you can do to keep your dog’s teeth healthy is to make sure that they are brushed everyday. Without regular brushing, plaque build ups can turn into tartar, a hard brown substance that sticks to teeth and can cause an inflammation of the gums, or gingivitis. Inflamed gums allow bacteria to cause erosion below the gum line, weakening the bond between the gum and the tooth and risking further decay. In severe cases, decay can lead to tooth loss or even cause bacteria from the mouth to be released into the bloodstream, leading to heart disease.
Small dental issues can become a big health hazard for dogs if left unaddressed
There are specialist dog toothbrushes and toothpastes available, as well as finger brushes. Never use human toothpaste with your dog, as this can upset their stomach. If your dog is not used to having their teeth brushed, introduce them to the process slowly. It should be a fun experience for them so don’t try to brush all their teeth on the first go. You can start by brushing the front teeth or the inside of their cheek. Move on to brushing their back teeth, gradually increasing the number of teeth you brush in one session until your dog will allow you to do the whole mouth in one go.
There are also other ways to prevent plaque build up, as a supplement to brushing. Dry food may seem more abrasive than wet food, but it often doesn’t stop plaque accumulating completely. However, some diets are designed to clean dogs’ teeth by chewing. You can also try giving your dog a dental chew before bedtime, which may have a mild cleaning effect, as well as being a good way of keeping your four legged friend occupied. Choosing a good quality brand of complete pet food that is low in sugar is also helpful, and be sure to reduce your dog’s weighed out daily food allowance to account for the extra calories in dental chews.
How to check a dog’s teeth
Small dental issues can become a big health hazard for dogs if left unaddressed, so it is important to be on the lookout. Owners should try to check their dog’s mouth often, ideally a few times a week. This is particularly important for small dogs, as these breeds are more likely to suffer from dental disease because of tooth overcrowding. Some key things to look out for in these dental checks include dental tartar, reddened or bleeding gums, broken or discoloured teeth, loose teeth or firm swellings under the eye, as this could be a sign of a painful tooth root abscess.
Pet parents to puppies should also make sure to look out for permanent teeth as they emerge. Puppies generally start to lose their deciduous teeth, or baby teeth, at around 6 months of age. While this is happening, dogs’ teeth should be checked more regularly. Occasionally a deciduous tooth does not fall out as expected, so it’s important to spot if a permanent tooth is erupting beside a deciduous tooth. If this occurs, the puppy may need a visit to the vet and, in most cases, the deciduous tooth will need to be removed under general anaesthetic.
Signs of dental issues may also manifest themselves in a dog’s behaviour. Discomfort or pain caused by dental problems may lead to a decrease in appetite, weight loss, evading attempts to examine their mouth, or rubbing their head or nose on surrounding objects. Bad breath can also be a sign of dental issues, although it can also be connected to other health issues. If you notice any of these signs, then you should consult a vet about how to help your dog.
While a regime of tooth cleaning and dental checks may take time, it is also crucial to keeping canines happy and healthy. So owners should try to get dogs used to the routine as soon as possible. In this way, you will know what is normal for your dog so that you can spot problems early.