Dental (tooth and gum) disease is common amongst dogs as they get older. In fact, it is the most commonly diagnosed health condition in dogs over three years of age and it can lead to other problems with the kidneys and heart, for instance.
What causes dental disease in dogs?
The first stage of dental disease is typically the build-up of plaque on the teeth – this is a film on the teeth containing saliva, bacteria and food. While it is easy to remove via brushing (which is why we brush our teeth twice a day), if it is not removed quickly enough (within 3-5 days) it turns into a brown, hard substance called tartar or calculus. This is much more difficult to remove and can cause your dog’s gums to become inflamed, resulting in a painful condition called gingivitis. The gums start to look red and swollen at the margin where they meet the teeth and can be prone to bleeding. Your dog’s breath will also start to smell as the plaque and tartar build up.
If gingivitis is left untreated it can cause a more serious form of gum disease – periodontal disease. This is where the connection between the jaw and the tooth is gradually broken down, resulting in a pocket forming around the tooth and eventually the tooth will become wobbly and fall out. This pocket also provides an entry point for bacteria to get down to the root area, potentially causing a tooth root abscess. Abscesses are painful and cause facial swelling. Bacteria can also enter via a broken tooth if the pulp is exposed, so be careful to make sure your dog does not chew on very hard substances that can weaken teeth leading to fractures.
What are the symptoms of dental disease in dogs?
The symptoms tend to come on gradually and are not always obvious. Dogs will usually carry on eating until their dental disease is extremely advanced. Often, subtle behavioural changes will occur first and these are commonly put down to the dog getting older and ‘grumpier’.
Symptoms of dental disease include:
- Bad breath
- Tartar and sore gums
- Less keen to play with toys or eat chews
- Difficulty eating – chewing on one side only, dropping food from the mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Pawing or rubbing at the mouth
- Wobbly teeth
- Bleeding from the mouth (you may notice blood on chews or toys)
- Swollen face (normally under the eye on affected side)
- Weight loss
Remember that dental disease can be very painful for your dog, so if you have any concerns about their dental health then please speak to your vet.
How is dental disease in dogs diagnosed?
Your vet will examine your dog’s mouth and will diagnose dental disease based on the appearance of their teeth and gums. They can discuss with you the severity of the changes present and therefore the best way to treat them and hopefully prevent worsening of the dental disease, making your dog more comfortable.
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How is dental disease in dogs treated?
If there is a build-up of tartar on the teeth then your vet is likely to recommend that they are cleaned under general anaesthetic. We use special ultrasonic descaling equipment to remove this hard substance that is stuck to your dog’s teeth. The dog needs to be asleep to keep them still and so that we can protect the airway, given the large amount of water that we need to use in the mouth. Once the teeth are clean, they are then polished to smooth the surface.
When your dog is asleep the vet will also assess all the teeth to see if any need to be removed. If there is advanced periodontal disease or broken teeth, then the vet is likely to suggest that they are extracted. Dental x-rays can often be taken if needed.
Your vet may prescribe pain relief and antibiotics if they feel your dog is in need of these.
How to prevent dental disease in dogs?
As with most things, prevention is better than cure when it comes to dental disease. There are various ways to help reduce the build-up of plaque and tartar on your dog’s teeth. These include:
- Daily tooth brushing
- Just like with us, the best way to keep your dog’s teeth clean is through daily tooth brushing to remove plaque before it has the chance to calcify into tartar.
- Use a special doggy toothbrush and toothpaste (do not use human toothpaste as this can contain ingredients that are dangerous for your dog). Start with just your finger or a finger brush before building up to using a toothbrush.
- You can buy toothbrushes and toothpaste from our shop by following this link.
- Dental chews and toys
- Encouraging your dog to chew on dental treats and toys can help to reduce the plaque on their teeth, just be careful to make sure they are a suitable size for your dog and ideally vet approved. Avoid hard chews, bones and stones, as these may break your dog’s teeth.
- We have various ones available here in our shop. You can be safe in the knowledge that all of our products have been selected by vets.
- Dental diet
- Certain dry diets have been specifically designed to help clean your dog’s teeth as they crunch on the biscuits. They can be fed as a complete dog food.
- Some are available in our shop by following this link.
- Regular check ups
- Your dog should ideally have regular vet check-ups– this will help to pick up dental problems earlier, before they are causing significant discomfort and when they are likely to be easier to deal with.