When you visit the dentist yourself, you are constantly reminded about looking after your gums, proper cleaning and overall dental hygiene. Dogs are no different, they need to have their gums attended to and have sparkling teeth and fresh breath. The only difference is, they cannot do most of that themselves!
Bacteria is the predominant cause of gum disease. Once food has been consumed, bacteria and saliva as well as food particles will cause plaque, just as it does in humans. We can pick up a toothbrush, use a mouthwash and get rid of a lot of it, but not so for our canine friends. Your pet is far more at risk of periodontal disease than you are, somewhere in the region of five or six times more prone to problems.
In very basic terms, a dog has a more alkaline mouth than their human counterparts. You could say, ‘hello bacteria, meet my friendly alkaline’, such is the relationship between the two. If you then add another ‘friend’ to the mix, a battle begins. White blood cells increase and are the advance party to ward off the bacteria. It’s basically a natural call to action, but unfortunately can have a devastating effect on the gums. They can become inflamed, and the surrounding tissue and bone can break down, causing teeth to fall out.
Once this all comes together, there is another war taking place – the fight to save or slow down this degradation inside your pets’ mouth. This is all a bit too late, and as the old saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’, but it does require maximum effort to protect your dogs’ mouth. Your pet can be in a great deal of pain once the mouth has deteriorated, but other complications can occur on major organs in the body, such as the heart, liver and kidneys. Not only that, once the disease sets in, jaw bones can become so brittle that they break at the slightest incidence, causing incredible pain for your beloved pet.
The first thing you will probably notice is that your dogs’ breath has become more pungent. If you examine his gums and teeth, there will be ‘slimy’ plaque and the gums may look noticeably red and swollen. Inflammation of the gums means that action needs to be taken immediately, if you haven’t already done so.
Other factors you may notice are that his teeth have become discoloured, either a dull yellowish or brownish tinge or both, and if you move any of them, they are wobbly, or perhaps one has actually fallen out and you hadn’t spotted it.
Another sign is if your dog, who normally has the appetite of a vacuum cleaner, suddenly ‘goes off’ their food, or no longer wants some of the treats he had before – nice, juicy bones get left on the floor, or his favourite toys are discarded as they are too painful to chew on. These are all telltale signs that your dog may be in discomfort due to periodontal disease – a vets’ appointment is essential at this stage.
Other indications could be blood in their saliva, or deposits of stringy blood in their food and water bowls, and even on their toys that they use to chew. They may also not like being touched around the head and mouth area, or visibly eating only on one side of their mouths.
You can with due diligence, but it is not always easy if you have a very busy life – but you have to make time, just as you would to clean your own teeth, or if you have little ones, making sure they brush regularly.
Cleaning your pets’ teeth should follow the same pattern as yours – brushing twice daily to avoid a build up of bacteria. It takes a lot of patience and the right equipment to do so, but if you start in the early days of your pets’ life, it should become easier for you and they will eventually take it as part of their daily routine. If you need any help, take a trip to see your vet who will be able to guide your through the process.
Do think about what you feed your dog too. This is where a vet can really help you by suggesting foods that help keep teeth clean during the chewing process. Some foods also have a supplement that can stop plaque from hardening up and becoming difficult to remove. They may also suggest specific toys that are tooth-friendly, as some toys are not.
Don’t be fooled by certain products on the market such as ‘meat-flavoured’ toothpaste or others. It is not always the taste of toothpaste that your dog doesn’t like, it’s the fact that he doesn’t like his teeth being cleaned! Ask your vets’ advice on the right product and brush that suits your dog and the stage that their teeth have reached.
It’s a wise idea to visit your vet every six months to have a dental check up for your dog, to keep abreast of any potential problems. Periodontal treatment can be very expensive, as are extractions, which of course are painful for your pet.
If you catch gum disease early, you have every chance of stopping it before it becomes too severe resulting in intensive treatment being required. Problems in the mouth start with ‘gingivitis’ and if left untreated, will progress into deeper issues such as tooth and bone loss.