A Buildup of Plaque or Tartar
Dogs also need regular cleanings in order to help clear away plaque (bacteria) that could otherwise harm their teeth and affect their oral health. Plaque is a white substance made up primarily of bacteria, that if left on the tooth, will harden and turn into calculus (which takes on a yellow appearance). Tartar will remain stuck to the tooth until it is scraped off with an object such as those used by a veterinarian.
When a veterinary dentist notes tooth loss or dental decay in dogs, there is usually tartar of calculus behind it. The most common signs for a dog owner to look out for are gingivitis (very red and swollen gum line), discolored deposits on the teeth, and increasingly bad breath. As the dental disease gets worse, dogs may experience even worse breath as well as bleeding of the gums.
Periodontal (Gum) Disease
When your dog is affected by gum disease, they will experience deterioration and inflammation of their gums. This most commonly occurs when untreated plaque and tartar stick to the tooth and make their way beneath the gum line.
This disease starts in the form of gingivitis and develops into periodontal disease as the gum and bone around the tooth deteriorate. As this occurs, pockets around the tooth can develop, allowing food and bacteria to collect below the tooth. If left unattended, dangerous infections can arise and the teeth will begin to fall out.
Common symptoms of canine periodontitis include:
- Discolored teeth (brown or yellow)
- Loose or missing teeth
- Bad breath
- Weight loss
- Inflamed or bleeding gums
- Excessive drooling
- Blood on chew toys or in the water bowl
- Favoring one side of the mouth when chewing
- “Ropey” or bloody saliva
- Reduced appetite
- Problems keeping food in the mouth
If you notice any of these symptoms present in your dog, please contact a veterinarian.
Broken Teeth / Tooth Fractures
With all of the chewing that dogs do whether they are eating or playing, it is not surprising that tooth fractures are a very common occurrence. Even everyday items that dogs use can cause a tooth fracture, such as bones or hard plastic used to make toys.
Dog chew toys should be small enough that the dog doesn't have to entirely open its mouth, but large enough that there won't be a concern of accidentally swallowing or choking on the toy.
An oral infection is an outcome of a pocket (usually around the root of the tooth) that has been filled with bacteria. Infections are primarily caused by periodontitis but can also be initiated due to trauma-induced chewing on hard or sharp objects. Some infections can be fatal as the bacteria makes its way to the bloodstream and cause organ disease/failure in the heart, liver, kidneys, or brain.
Preventing Dental Concerns in Dogs
Your veterinarian can help you develop an ongoing dental care plan for your dog to help protect their oral health.
Introducing food or water additives is an easy way to improve and maintain the health and strength of their teeth and bones. Adjusting your dog's diet can also increase oral hygiene, even with small exchanges like providing dental chews instead of less healthy treats.
One of the main ways that you can help prevent plaque buildup on your dog's teeth is by routine tooth brushing. Although it is not very realistic, brushing their teeth every day would be best if your dog will tolerate the process.
Be sure to bring your dog in for an oral hygiene cleaning and examination at least once every year. Some smaller breeds of dogs should go two or more times a year due to their teeth's shallow roots.
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.