Dental care for dogs
Dental problems in dogs are more common than you might think. Despite the fact that veterinarians advise dog owners to clean their pets' teeth, only a small percentage of dog owners will actually do this. Research has also shown that 80% of dogs over the age of three has dental problems, while only 23% of dog owners flag this up. Dental care is not only necessary for humans, but for pets too. Aside from trauma (breaking of teeth), dental plaque and tartar cause a lot of dental problems in pets. Good dental care can prevent serious problems for your pet.
Dental problems in young dogs
It's not very common, but sometimes veterinarians see puppies or young dogs with dental problems. The most common conditions for these dogs are dental fractures (often caused by excitement) and the incorrect position of one or several teeth. When this leads or will lead to clinical symptoms, treatment will have to be started.
Plaque and tartar
In most cases, dental problems in dogs follow the formation of plaque and then tartar. Plaque is a barely visible layer that is constantly formed on the teeth. It consists of food residue, mucous and bacteria. Plaque can be removed relatively easily. Due to the impact of various minerals and the pH value of the saliva, plaque can calcify into tartar. As the word suggests, this is really hard and cannot be removed by brushing. Bacteria then accumulate, eventually leading to gum infections and further dental problems.
As your pet gets older, the risk of dental problems increases. Neglected dental problems lead to pain and can have serious consequences for your pet's health. The animal will have symptoms that may vary from bad breath, infected gums and exposed molar roots to loose teeth and the loss of teeth. What's even more serious is that dental problems can have an adverse effect on the overall health of your pet. Badly neglected dental problems may lead to inflammation in vital organs, with all of the consequences that this leads to.
These days there are a great number of possibilities within veterinary dental health, and there are veterinarians who specialise in this area. Sometimes is may be necessary to diagnose this further, using a special X-ray machine for dog teeth. Treatments range from braces and crowns to root canal treatments and extractions. The most important reason for these therapies is your dog's wellbeing of course. As many people will confirm, tooth-ache is very unpleasant to live with!
Of course, prevention is always better than a cure! Brushing your pet's teeth is the best preventive measure for cleaning its teeth. If this is not possible, luckily there are good alternatives.
Brushing your dog's teeth
Brushing your dog's teeth is usually pretty easy to teach puppies and young dogs. In older dogs, you might struggle a bit more, and sometimes they just will not let you. There are toothbrushes that have been developed especially for dogs. For smaller dogs, these can be quite big, so a finger toothbrush or a piece of gauze might be a good alternative. It is important that you only use doggy toothpaste. Due to its composition, human toothpaste is not suitable for dogs. What's more, doggy toothpaste has a meat flavour, making it easier to teach your dog to brush. The dog does not have to open its mouth fully in order for you to brush its teeth. In most cases, you just need to lift up the dog's lips and then clean all of the visible parts on the outside of the teeth and molars. You don't really need to brush the inside of the teeth. It is recommended that you brush your dog's teeth at least twice a week, but daily is even better.
Please note: it is important not to start brushing when your dog already has dental problems, or has recently had dental treatment. These are times when brushing can be painful and dogs may develop an aversion to it.
If you don't manage to actively brush your dog's teeth, there are various alternatives available. For example, a tasty, sticky toothpaste can be used. This is applied on the inside of the cheeks, and then you massage the outside of the cheeks, allowing you to remove plaque and also stimulate the production of saliva.
Special food has been developed aiming to maintain healthy teeth in your dog. This dry food has rather large chunks, which have a specific structure that allows the teeth to be cleaned while chewing. The dry food doesn't immediately crumb and scrapes against the teeth. What's more, the composition means that minerals such as calcium are not available for the formation of tartar.
Special dental chew sticks can help clean the teeth. This combines usefulness and pleasure. There are even suitable chew products for dogs with food allergies! It is important to keep an eye on your dog's weight and to adjust the amount of food on the days you give your dog chew products. After all, a dog with excellent teeth and obesity is also far from ideal!
Products to add to food and water
To combat bacteria and bad breath, you can choose to add a supplement to your pet's food or drinking water. Liquids often contain chlorhexidine, and the supplements that can be given with food are usually based on algae.
Other oral care
Various toys have been developed to ensure that the teeth are also cleaned mechanically whilst playing. These toys can be combined with toothpaste if you wish.
How do you find out that your dog has dental problems?
Bad breath is not normal!
It is a common misconception that it is normal for dogs to have bad breath. In many cases this is an indication of dental problems. It is therefore important to care for your pet's teeth daily and to have them checked on a regular basis.
A good appetite does not mean that your dog does not have dental problems!
The argument that the animal is still eating well and that there is therefore not likely to be a problem is used often. This is completely wrong! When an animal suffers from inflamed gums or a few bad molars, it will still keep eating to survive. In these cases, the animal is in pain, but it might not be noticeable for the owner. It's even possible for dogs with bad, rotten and loose teeth to appear to eat normally.
If in doubt, you should contact your veterinarian to ask them to examine your dog's teeth and indicate what your dog needs.