Does your dog have bad breath? Are their teeth clean? Statistics suggest that over 80% of dogs have some degree of dental disease by the time they are 3 years old. Your dog can’t tell you when he has a toothache, so it’s essential that you take steps to keep his teeth clean. While your veterinarian does play a role in keeping your dog’s pearly whites in good health, there is much you can do at home to prevent dental disease.
When you bring your new puppy home at around 8 weeks of age, he’ll have a full mouth of sharp baby teeth. There isn’t anything you need to do for these teeth, but it’s a good idea to get your pup used to having his mouth examined and his teeth cleaned. Make a game of opening his mouth, looking at his teeth and giving them a gentle rub with a soft toothbrush.
His temporary teeth will start to fall out at around 4 months of age and by 7 months he’ll have all of his permanent teeth in place. This is when you need to get serious about dental care, because these teeth need to last him for the rest of his life.
One of the first indicators that your dog’s teeth need attention is that his breath smells bad. As his dental disease progresses, he may drool and paw his mouth, and he may have trouble eating.
Long before this happens, there are a number of things you can do to keep your dog’s teeth and gums in good condition. Bearing in mind your pet uses all his teeth for different purposes, sometimes using a combination of things works best. Not all teeth will accumulate tartar at the same rate and this can be dependent on factors like how your dog chews and whether there is good alignment of the teeth.
Dogs use their large, pointy canine teeth (fangs) at the front of the mouth for grabbing a hold of something (eg. a prey item if they were hunting, or a big bone or toy), but don’t use them for chewing. The best way to look after canines is with brushing, as these are the easiest to get to.
There are 12 incisors in total. These are those little single-rooted teeth at the front and are mainly used for grooming and sometimes for delicate chewing (or snipping off a mouthful of grass). These are also very easy to brush and can also be kept clean with water additives.
Behind the canines are the sharp premolars. These multi-rooted teeth are used for cutting large food items. They number 16 in total (4 on each side top and bottom). You will notice that most dogs move larger food items to the back where the cutting teeth are. The best way to keep these clean is by brushing and using a chew which provides good cleaning action.
The larger 10 flat molars at the back are ideal for grinding up hard dry food. Using dental biscuits and natural chews keeps these healthy and clean, they can be a bit tricky to brush since they are so far back.
There are various additives you can add to your pet’s drinking water that can reduce tartar formation. They do work best as a preventative, so should ideally be introduced when your dog is young or just after a dental clean.
BONES AND CHEWS
Chewing can really help to keep your pet’s teeth healthy, particularly those premolars but it is very important to ensure safe chewing. There is certainly much debate on the safety of bones for dogs which can cause broken, chipped and damaged teeth. A bone that is strong enough to hold up a 1 tonne cow, or even a 200lb sheep is pretty tough. And raw chicken bones are a huge choking hazard and with intensive chicken farming practices a great way to get a salmonella or e.coli infection.
All natural chews such as Bully Sticks provide an excellent way for your dog to clean their teeth as they are able to sink their teeth right up to the gum line, which is a good way to prevent periodontal disease. Alternatively, harder chews such as Himalayan Yak Cheese will need lots of chewing and scraping which is great for overall dental health. For smaller dogs, Bully Stick Juniors or Small Yak Chews provide an excellent source of high quality chewing.
There are a number of diets now available to help prevent tartar formation. They help by mechanically brushing the teeth, as they are formed with larger pieces. They also have ingredients that help prevent gingivitis and the build-up of plaque. Your veterinarian may recommend a prescription dental diet.
If your dog is accustomed to having his mouth examined, your vet can examine his teeth every 6 months during a physical exam. It may not be possible to probe around the teeth with a dental probe to check for pockets between the tooth and gum, but your vet can assess for tartar accumulation, gingivitis and tooth fractures.
Your home care will help to prevent plaque and tartar from accumulating on your dog’s teeth but it won’t get rid of what’s already there. Even with regular brushing, as humans we need to visit the dentist every 6 months. The same goes for our pets.
A regular dental scale and polish every 6 – 12 months is the key to keeping all your pet’s teeth and avoiding unnecessary and costly dental extractions.
Once teeth have disease around the gums and significant pockets of infection around gum line, the damage to the ligaments holding the tooth in the jaw is usually irreversible, which is why sometimes teeth need to be removed. If damaged teeth aren’t removed they will just serve as a source for further infection down the track.
With the right home care and support from your veterinarian, your dog will enjoy a clean, healthy mouth and fresh breath. Dental care for pets has advanced significantly over the last few years and your dog can enjoy similar treatments to those available to you. The link between dental disease, kidney and heart disease has long been recognized in humans. A pet with healthy teeth has the best chance of avoiding chronic illness and living a happy, healthy life full of sweet smelling doggy kisses.