Oral health, the wellness of your dog’s teeth and gums, is central to their wellbeing. Making sure that the mouth is clean and healthy helps keep the entire dog in good condition, also reducing the likelihood of the unpleasantness of a dog’s bad breath. Periodontal disease is a common problem, with studies showing that 80% of dogs having suffered from at least one stage of gum disease by the time they reach three years of age. This makes gum disease probably the most common mouth issue that occurs in dogs. Other issues that can cause problems for the dog’s mouth include cracked or broken teeth, injuries from chewing unsuitable hard items and oral tumours. All of these oral health problems require a visit to the vet to properly diagnose and treat.
The good news when it comes to gum disease, or if your dog has bad breath, is that it is possible to reduce the risks of permanent damage. Carrying out periodic examinations, both at home and by a qualified vet, and making sure that your dog’s teeth are regularly cleaned both cuts the chances right down and is a way to ensure your dog’s mouth stays healthy is prevention.
Signs and symptoms of oral health in dogs
A healthy dog mouth has clean white teeth, with no obvious cracks, cavities or broken teeth. The gums are an even pink colour, with no red spots, swellings or lumps and bumps. There should not be any sign of bad breath.
Signs of problems with oral health include:
- Bad breath
- Yellow-brown hard covering (tartar) on teeth
- Reddened, irritated or bleeding gums
- Swellings or lumps in the gums
- Pus leaking from the gums
- Cracked, broken or missing teeth
- Reluctance to eat, particularly hard kibble
- Pawing at the mouth due to discomfort or pain
- Reluctance to have mouth touched or examined
What causes oral health problems in dogs?
The most common offender concerning oral health in dogs is gum disease, and one of the most frequent causes of bad breath in dogs.
After eating, leftover morsels of food mix with saliva and bacteria and coat the surfaces of the teeth, forming a sticky layer known as plaque. If not removed, this mixes with minerals found in saliva and hardens around the tooth as tartar, the brown-yellow hard coating often seen when owners realise ‘my dog has bad breath’ and look in their mouth. This gives an ideal surface for more plaque to stick to, and so the problem worsens. The gums are irritated and prone to bleeding, becoming pushed away from the teeth. This exposes more space for bacteria to attack, again making the problem worse. This first stage of periodontal disease is gingivitis, and the condition is reversible at this stage.
The next stage is periodontitis, and this is when it becomes irreversible. Tooth cavities can form, both above and below the gum line. The gums erode and their tissue is destroyed. Teeth become loose and may fall out as the bone of the sockets holding them disappears. Pockets of pus may form, and abscesses around tooth roots and breath are likely to be foul. This is very painful for the dog. Dogs are very stoic and many will keep eating for as long as they can manage, but a reluctance to eat due to pain can lead to weight loss if not tackled.
Breed has an effect on the chances of developing gum disease. Smaller dogs and brachycephalic, flat-faced breeds are more prone to problems. This is due to a higher chance of overcrowding of teeth in the jaw. They also are more likely to not shed puppy teeth properly, or have extra teeth present. This means more areas for plaque to build up and cause problems, and cleaning the teeth effectively is more difficult. Brachycephalic dogs frequently breathe through their mouths, drying out and irritating oral tissues.
Other causes of problems are injuries from chewing unsuitable items such as stones or sticks. These can result in injuries to the gums, tongue or palate, and cracked or broken teeth.
If you find a lump in the mouth combined with bad breath cancer is a potential cause. Oral tumours are fast growing, and the lack of sufficient blood supply means that bad breath often occurs with these tumours.
Oral health in dogs treatment
For any oral health issue that is causing an obvious problem, the vet is the first destination. They can properly examine your dog’s mouth under anaesthetic, and clean their teeth thoroughly. Any teeth that need extraction can be removed, and any other oral health problems can be diagnosed and a treatment plan devised. A regular dental exam from the vet is an important part of keeping your dog’s mouth as healthy as possible.
The best method to prevent gum disease, and a great answer to the question of how to get rid of a dog’s bad breath, is to brush your dog’s teeth regularly. It is best to get them used to having this done as a puppy if possible but with time and patience, most dogs come to accept the process.
Start by picking a time when your dog is calm and relaxed, as you do not want them to wriggle and learn that can stop the brushing. Keep sessions very short and reward them with something nice after you have finished. Repeat each stage for 2-3 days to ensure they are happy before progressing.
Rubbing a finger gently along the dog’s lip, outside of the mouth, gets them used to a hand there. When the dog is quite happy with this, you can slip your finger under the lip to rub the tooth and gum gently. When your dog accepts this happily, introduce the brush. Soft-bristled brushes and brushes that fit over your finger are available from pet stores or your vet. Soak the brush in warm water and repeat the gentle gum stroking process, this time using the brush tip to touch the gum. Try to angle the head at 45 degrees to clean along where the gum meets the teeth, and use a gentle circular motion. Start with the front teeth, and move back towards the molars as the dog becomes more accustomed to having their teeth brushed.
Once the dog is happy with the toothbrush, you can add toothpaste and brush! Daily is best, but aim for 3-4 times a week at least. Doggy toothpaste is available in a variety of flavours to make the process more palatable. Never use human toothpaste, as some ingredients are toxic to dogs. One dog bad breath home remedy that you can use to make life more pleasant while working on brushing teeth is to add chopped mint or parsley to their food, as they are natural breath fresheners.
In addition to brushing – or instead of, if your dog really doesn’t like the idea – provide suitable dog chews and rubber chew toys, as these will help to remove plaque from the teeth before it can cause problems. Some people think that eating kibble will help remove plaque. This is not true, as the kibble will leave food morsels behind, rather like expecting our teeth to be clean after eating a biscuit! If unsure what is suitable for your dog, consult your vet for advice.
As with all health considerations, feeding a top quality, nutritionally balanced diet will help all areas of your dog’s health and wellbeing.
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To find out more about Pure fed dogs and their oral health, check out our Oral Health page.