Imagine the following: you wake up during the night with a throbbing pain in your jaw. That tooth you have been ignoring is finally getting its revenge on you. You will have to go to the dentist. While the pain is preventing you from going back to sleep, you think about getting injected in your gums, the sound of the drill and the discomfort of a numb face … no fun!
A bad taste in your (dog’s) mouth
Our dogs can also suffer from dental disease, and while they cannot tell us that they are experiencing pain or discomfort, there are ways to tell.
Your vet will check your dog’s teeth when you take him for his annual vaccination and check-up, but as that only happens once a year, it is important that you regularly make sure that his pearly whites are in order.
The most obvious sign is likely to be bad breath. Yes, normal doggie breath doesn’t always smell that great, but here we are talking about a smell that will, well, take your breath away. As you are probably aware of what your dog’s breath usually smells like, it should be easy to notice such a vast difference. It is also a good idea to regularly check the inside of his mouth. Lift up his lips and take a good look at his gums and teeth. The gums should be pink in colour and show no signs of swelling. The teeth should be clean, without tartar on them. Many dogs will not appreciate human fingers around their muzzles and inside their mouths, which is why it is essential to get your puppy used to this from a young age.
Why is tooth care so important?
If you think back to the last time you had a nasty toothache, you will most likely not want your best friend to ever experience it! Apart from pain and the stress associated with it, your dog might risk losing some of his teeth – but it gets even worse. Did you know that dental problems can actually shorten your dog’s lifespan? This might sound extreme, but the truth is that toxins from the teeth can find their way into the dog’s bloodstream, thus affecting organs that filter blood such as the kidneys, liver and brain. Small infections can occur which cause permanent damage, and which can in some cases even be fatal.
Prevention is better than cure
Sadly, dental health is often overlooked by pet owners, despite the dire consequences it can have. Your vet will intervene if he notices that something is wrong, but a daily dental routine will go a long way in preventing this – also preventing the possibility of anaesthesia, stress and high veterinary bills.
It is advisable that you brush your dog’s teeth daily, or at least three times a week. As mentioned before, your dog might not be comfortable with that idea and you need to get him used to his mouth being handled from puppyhood. If your dog is already an adult, it can still be done with a bit of patience. Start by getting him used to fingers near and in his mouth. Put something yummy, like xylitol-free peanut butter, on your finger, and let him lick your finger while you gently rub his teeth and gums. Work at the dog’s pace – do not rush. Only move on to the next step when your dog is comfortable with what you have been doing. Eventually try to move his lips out of the way, until he is completely happy with that. Once your dog is ready, you can bring in your toothpaste and brush, and start by allowing your dog to sniff them. Remember to never use human toothpaste. Your dog will not spit like you do, and therefore dog toothpaste is formulated to be safe to swallow. Brush his teeth in a circular motion, and remember to brush along the gumline. Once again, take things slowly. If your dog only lets you brush one tooth on the first try, that is okay. When you are done, reward him with a treat, toy or affection so that he will learn to associate the process with happy things.
Signs of teeth trouble
- Bad breath
- Excessive drooling
- Inflamed gums
- Tumours in the gums
- Cysts under the tongue
- Loose teeth
A breakdown of dental disease:
- Plaque The first build-up of material adhering to tooth enamel.
- Calculus (tartar) Calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate combined with organic material, deposited on the surface of the tooth.
- Gingivitis Inflammation of the gums.
- Periodontitis A general term for a disease of the oral cavity that attacks the gum and bone and delicate tissues around the teeth.
- Pyorrhoea Inflammation of the gums and tooth sockets, often leading to loosening of the teeth and accompanied by pus.