If your dog is behaving strangely, they may be experiencing pain in their mouth due to dental problems, which can lead to serious health issues. Today, our Concord vets share how to spot dental health problems in dogs, list common issues and discuss how they can be prevented or treated.
Your Dog's Oral Health
Poor oral health in a dog can lead to numerous complications for their physical health. Like a person, your dog uses their teeth, mouth and gums to vocalize and eat. That said, damage or disease can impact their oral structures, causing pain and dysfunction that interfere with your pet's ability to eat and communicate normally.
Infections and bacteria can also trigger a plethora of oral health problems in dogs that don't remain exclusively in your pup's mouth. Left untreated, these infections and bacteria move throughout the rest of your pet's body, causing irreparable harm to your liver, heart and kidney. This can lead to more serious negative consequences for your pooch's health and longevity.
This is why veterinary dentistry and regular pet dental care are critical pillars of your pet's preventive healthcare routine. By performing regular dental cleanings, we can prevent long-term health issues or ensure developing problems are identified and treated early.
How to Spot Dental Issues in Dogs
The symptoms your dog may experience will depend on their specific oral health condition. There's a chance your pup is suffering from dental disease if you see any of these conditions or behaviors.
Some of the most common signs of dental disease in dogs may include:
- Excessive drooling
- Bleeding, swollen or noticeably red gums
- Weight loss
- Difficulty with or slow eating
- Pawing at their mouth or teeth
- Loose or missing teeth
- Visible tartar
- Bad breath
Common Dog Dental Problems
While a wide range of health issues can affect your dog's teeth, gums and other parts of their mouth, there are a few common conditions we advise pet parents to beware of.
Plaque & Tartar Buildup
Made mainly of bacteria, plaque is a whitish biofilm that develops on the teeth and has a bad odor that will worsen the longer it stays in the mouth. Plaque buildup can lead to gum irritation and tooth decay.
If teeth are not brushed and plaque removed within about 24 to 48 hours, plaque will harden into tartar, a yellow or brown-colored substance that's also referred to as calculus. Tartar covers the surface of the teeth and will need to be removed with a dental scaler or another tool.
Tartar causes tooth decay and gum irritation to grow worse. Plaque and tartar leave your dog at high risk for tooth loss and gum disease. Common signs include discolored deposits on teeth, a red, swollen gum line (referred to as gingivitis) and bad breath. Owners may notice more frequent bleeding gums and worsening breath as dental disease progresses.
When plaque and tartar remain in the mouth, bacteria gets under the gum line, eroding tissue and bone that hold your dog's teeth in place. Periodontal disease starts with gingivitis. Loss of soft tissue and bone surrounding the teeth occurs as the disease becomes more advanced. The teeth's support structures degrade and pockets develop around the tooth roots.
This allows bacteria, debris and food to accumulate here and dangerous infections to develop. Over time, the teeth loosen and start to fall out.
If periodontal disease develops, bacteria can make its way into the open space around tooth roots, leading to infection, which may manifest as a tooth root abscess.
Pus then develops in the bacteria-laden pocket around the tooth to fight the infection. Left untreated, the abscess may become so large that it leads to swelling in the face and anatomical deformity.
While oral infections are often caused by periodontal disease, they often happen secondary to trauma in the mouth. Trauma may be due to injury from chewing on hard or sharp objects.
Dogs that are powerful chewers can fracture their teeth chewing on very hard plastic, antlers or bones. Most vets will recommend against allowing your dog to chew on anything harder than what you would want to bang hard on your knee.
Size of chews can also factor into the occurrence of tooth fractures - a chew that's too large for a dog's mouth may make the tooth and chew line up that breaks the outside of a tooth (known as a slab fracture).
Your veterinarian may recommend pick chews, which are small enough to hold in the mouth without swallowing by accident. However, these are not so large that your dog will need to have a fully open mouth to safely chew on them.
Preventing Dental Issues in Dogs
The most reliable way to help prevent the development of dental problems with your dog's teeth is routine brushing and cleaning of your cat's mouth. You'll give your dog a much better chance of having healthier teeth and gums if plaque is brushed away before it can cause damage or infection.
To keep your pup's teeth in great condition and their breath fresh, schedule your pet for a professional dental examination and cleaning once a year. Dental appointments at Four Corners Veterinary Hospital are similar to taking your dog for an appointment at the veterinary dog dentist.
To prevent oral health issues from developing in the first place, you should start cleaning your dog's teeth and gums when they are still a puppy and will be able to quickly adapt to the process. You may also consider adding dog dental chews to their routine.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.