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Most people know that good oral hygiene habits are vital for preventing dental health problems like gum disease and tooth decay. They might not know that their dogs can develop these (and other) issues too. Dental disease is one of the most common health issues that affect dogs over the age of three.
Dental disease in dogs comes in many forms. One of the most common (and well-known) is gum or periodontal disease. Dogs can also develop tooth fractures, infections, and even tooth decay. Many of these problems aren’t instantly recognizable, and pet parents might not know anything’s wrong until the situation worsens.
All dogs are at risk of developing dental disease. Still, some breeds (brachycephalic breeds in particular) have a much higher risk. That includes English and French bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers, and Shih Tzus. Chihuahuas, miniature poodles, and Yorkshire terriers are also prone to tartar buildup and dental issues.
Periodontal disease is the most common dental issue affecting dogs. Much as it does in humans, the condition begins with gingivitis. Plaque and tartar accumulate on the surfaces of a dog’s teeth, irritating the gum tissue. That triggers an inflammatory response, which causes the gums to redden and swell.
Without treatment, gingivitis evolves into periodontal disease. In addition to gum inflammation, dogs may experience bone loss in their jaws, loose teeth, and tooth loss. Bacteria can also travel into the bloodstream, making their way (and causing damage) to vital organs like the liver, kidneys, and heart.
Dogs like to chew. While chew toys are great for satisfying chewing urges (and even keeping teeth clean), objects like bones, antlers, nylon chews, and pigs’ hooves can cause tooth damage, especially if the dog chews aggressively.
There are two types of tooth fractures in dogs: uncomplicated and complicated. An uncomplicated fracture only exposes dentin, the layer beneath the enamel, and results in tooth sensitivity. A complicated fracture leaves the pulp of the affected tooth (which contains blood vessels and nerves) exposed.
Though more uncommon, dogs can develop tooth decay. It happens when the acids in dental plaque eat away at the enamel of their teeth, leading to the formation of holes known as cavities. The acids can eat into the inner layers given enough time, allowing bacteria to get inside the tooth.
Tooth infections can develop from tooth fractures. Bacteria get into the tooth, multiply, and attack and destroy the tooth’s pulp. Eventually, they can start leaking out of the rotten tooth and into the bone. A pocket may form to contain the infection, resulting in an abscess.
A tooth infection can also develop as a result of periodontal disease. These infections form along the outside of the teeth through the supportive tissues that support them.
Similar to human children, puppies have baby (deciduous) teeth. These teeth loosen and fall out, making room for the adult teeth to emerge. In some cases, the baby teeth don’t fall out, but that doesn’t stop the adult teeth from coming in. The problem is that there’s no space for them. In addition to pain, retained deciduous teeth can result in crooked adult teeth.
An oral tumor is an abnormal growth that develops in a dog’s mouth. Some grow slowly and don’t spread (often benign or non-cancerous), while others grow rapidly and travel to other parts of the mouth or body (cancerous). They typically occur due to several risk factors, including genetics and the environment.
The earliest stages of dental disease aren’t always noticeable. Dogs don’t tend to exhibit signs or symptoms until their condition has progressed. One of the most common signs is oral pain. A dog might not cry or complain, but pet parents may notice:
Swelling near the eye
Changes in chewing patterns (the dog only chews on one side of their mouth)
Decreased appetite (less interest in dry food)
Dropping kibble more often while eating
Oral tumors often show similar signs, as do foreign bodies stuck between a dog’s teeth. If a pet parent notices anything unusual, they should contact a vet right away.
Treatment for dental disease depends on the specific issue and the dog’s age. A thorough oral evaluation and dental X-rays can help a vet determine the best course of action. Treatments may include:
Depending on the severity of an issue, a dog may require treatment from a vet specializing in oral reconstruction.
The best way to deal with dental disease is for pet parents to prevent it from developing in the first place. Some top dog dental health tips include:
Daily toothbrushing to remove plaque and bacteria buildup from tooth surfaces
Dental water additives
Dental treats for healthy dog teeth
Routine vet visits that include an oral exam
Annual professional cleanings
If pet parents have any questions or concerns about their dog’s dental health or need additional dog dental health care tips, they can always contact the Fuzzy veterinary support team 24/7 for further advice.