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Dental Problems in Dogs

The condition of your dog's teeth can have a major impact on his overall health and well-being. If left untreated, canine dental problems can lead to life-threatening health issues such as heart, kidney or liver disease. Take a few moments to consider some of the issues that can affect your dog's oral health and learn how you can prevent them—he'll be glad you did.

Identifying Problems

Dental issues often go unnoticed by pet parents because dogs usually don't show obvious signs of being in pain. Many dogs are very good “hiding” or “ignoring” gum or tooth pain until the problem has reached an advanced stage (perhaps a trait inherited from their ancestors of long ago, who couldn't afford to show a weakness in the wild). Luckily, you can make a quick oral examination a regular part of your dog's grooming schedule, and there are several signs of dental issues that you can watch for.

Signs and Symptoms

Irritation or inflammation along the gum line, obviously damaged teeth, redness, bleeding or abscesses can be indicative of dental problems in dogs. Bad breath—which can seem harmless enough—can also be an indicator that something has gone wrong inside your dog's mouth. (While the occasional bit of bad breath may not mean anything, it's worth looking for a cause if your dog exhibits a consistent case of severely bad breath.)

As is the case with people, it's very common for dogs to develop a buildup of plaque along the gum line. When left unchecked, this can cause the gingivitis, a gum condition characterized by inflammation of the gum tissue. In turn, gingivitis can progress into periodontal disease, in which the gums actually become infected. Separately, it's also possible for the interiors of individual teeth to become infected through damage or decay, a condition known as endodontic disease.

Finding Solutions

As long as they aren't too advanced, gum issues like gingivitis and periodontal disease can usually be eliminated or at least controlled through a cleaning by your veterinarian, although antibiotics may initially be necessary for advanced cases. Endodontic disease may require root canal therapy, or—in serious situations—tooth extraction. Root canal therapy is almost always preferable, as it leaves the tooth structure intact and isn't as invasive as extraction. On a positive note, your dog's regular veterinarian visits should include an oral examination that will help catch problems before they progress too far.

Preventing Disease

Taking care of your dog's teeth can help prevent dental disease, which can lead to serious illness if left untreated. Establish a daily toothbrushing routine for your dog—you do it for yourself, why not do it for him? Use only pet-designated toothbrushes and toothpaste—using toothpaste intended for humans can be harmful for your dog. There are several varieties of canine toothbrushes available, including the kind that slip onto your finger like a glove. Using a soft washcloth or piece of gauze works well too, especially for puppies that are getting used to having their teeth cleaned. Many dogs enjoy the flavor of dog toothpaste, and will appreciate the time you spend caring for their teeth.

Make your dog's playtime and treat time beneficial to his oral health with dental toys made of rope or rubber. These toys are designed to rub against your dog's teeth as he chews to help remove plaque and tartar buildup. Dental treats and chews can also help clean teeth and freshen breath.

Taking proper care of your dog's teeth can help him live a longer, healthier life. If you have any questions about your dog's dental health, consult with your veterinarian.