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Are You Doing All You Can for your Dog’s Oral Health?


You might be surprised to learn how crucial good oral health is to the overall well being of your dog and how frequently oral health problems arise. Oral disease is the most commonly diagnosed health problem for pets. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), 80 percent of dogs show signs of oral disease by age 3.

Oral diseases cause serious problems, such as:

  • Severe pain
  • Tooth loss
  • Damage to organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys

A recent American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) study showed that approximately two-thirds of pet owners do not provide the dental care that is considered essential by most veterinarians.

Your dog doesn't have to suffer from the consequences of poor oral health, however.  Be on the lookout for the signs of some of the most common oral diseases and have your dog examined regularly by a veterinarian. In addition, you can take preventive steps at home to promote your pet's oral health.

Gum disease

Many of the most common oral health problems for dogs stem from gum disease or periodontal disease.

Gum disease is an infection of the tissues that surround your dog's teeth. Without routine care, plaque - caused by a thin film of bacteria - may build up on your dog's teeth. Your dog's saliva naturally has calcium, which can cause plaque to calcify and harden into tartar. This tartar provides a surface for even more bacteria to grow and can cause gums to become red and swollen. If plaque and tartar buildup continues below the gum line, the bacteria can eat away at the surface of a tooth, cause an infection in the roots and even erode the bone socket that holds the tooth in place. It's this tissue damage and infection that causes bad breath in many dogs.

Smaller dogs are even more susceptible to gum disease than larger dogs. Their teeth are more crowded in their mouths, which can cause plaque and tartar to build up more quickly.

Symptoms of gum disease include:

  • Yellow- and brown-colored buildup of tartar along the gum line
  • Inflamed gums
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Receding gums
  • Bleeding
  • Pawing at the face
  • Difficulty eating

Broken teeth

Broken, chipped or fractured teeth, especially among dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors, are another common oral health issue. Untreated fractures can be very painful and may lead to infections. Bleeding and swelling may be symptomatic of a fracture, but some fractures can be hard to detect on your own, reinforcing the importance of regular veterinarian oral exams.

Many dogs love to chew, and chew toys can help maintain good oral health by reducing plaque. Toys that are too hard, however, can cause tooth fractures. One rule of thumb when choosing the appropriate toy, according to University of Illinois veterinary specialists, is if you can hammer a nail with the toy, it is too hard to give to your dog.

Oral tumors

Dogs can also suffer from a number of abnormal oral growths or tumors. Although tumors can be benign, they may indicate a malignant form of cancer. Even benign tumors can grow to dislodge teeth, cause pain and bring about problems with eating. Benign tumors can often be surgically removed before they cause serious problems. Malignant tumors may require more aggressive treatment.

Prevention is the best medicine

Scheduling routine dental care with your veterinarian is the most important step you can take to prevent problems associated with poor canine oral health. Your veterinarian may conduct an oral exam during regular checkups to look for oral abnormalities, tumors, periodontal disease and excessive plaque buildup. Sometimes your veterinarian may recommend dental cleanings under general anesthesia. In this case, similar to your visits to the dentist, the veterinarian may take x-rays, scale plaque from your dog's teeth, polish teeth and apply fluoride or sealant.

Home care is important, too. Early detection is the best way to prevent serious problems. Keep an eye out for symptoms of oral health troubles, and bring your dog for an examination at the veterinarian if you suspect any problems. Look for anything unusual, especially along the gum lines, under the tongue, the roof of the mouth and toward the back of the throat.

Many veterinarians recommend brushing your dog's teeth daily if possible. Hold the brush at a 45-degree angle near the base of the dog's teeth and brush in an oval-shaped pattern.

If your dog isn't used to having its teeth brushed, start slowly by using your finger or a clean cloth, rubbing it on the outsides of the front teeth for short periods of time. Gradually increase brushing time, eventually using a canine toothbrush. Your dog may also like the flavor of canine toothpaste, which will help it become used to regular brushings. Make oral care a positive experience and eventually your dog may come to love the attention. Choose a toothbrush with soft bristles specifically designed for dogs, and don't use human toothpaste; chemicals in human toothpaste can be toxic to dogs.

Some dogs won't tolerate a toothbrush, no matter what. If you feel like you can't get near your dog's mouth without risking getting bitten, consult with your veterinarian.

In addition to brushing, your veterinarian may also recommend special foods that help reduce plaque or mouth rinses that can be added to drinking water to help prevent tartar buildup.

It doesn't require much effort to keep your dog's mouth healthy. For further information on good canine oral health, talk to your veterinarian.


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