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While most pet owners understand the importance of a healthy mouth for themselves, two-thirds of dog owners neglect their pet’s dental hygiene, studies suggest. Consequently, 80 percent of dogs have dental disease by age two, the American Veterinary Medical Association reports.
Canine dental disease starts with un-removed plaque, a pale yellow film formed by bacteria adhering to tooth surfaces. Plaque build-up turns into tartar (calculus), an accumulation of bacteria that eats away at teeth and gums and can cause halitosis, periodontal disease, oral pain and tooth loss. This bacteria not only produces disease in the mouth, but can lead to diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease and other life-threatening problems.
Symptoms signaling possible canine dental disease include fishy-smelling breath, a toothache causing your dog to pull away if you touch the mouth, loss of appetite, bleeding from the gums, drooling, dropping food when attempting to chew, loose or discolored teeth and constant licking or pawing at the mouth.
Dental care for your dog should start early. The American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs recommends veterinarians evaluate puppies for problems related to baby teeth, missing or extra teeth, swellings and oral development.
Annual examinations and dental cleanings with your veterinarian should begin at one year of age for small-breed dogs. and two years for large-breed dogs. Done under anesthesia, cleaning includes X-rays to assess the health of all teeth and bones of your dog’s mouth, inspecting each tooth and the gum around it for signs of disease and flushing the mouth with a solution to kill bacteria. During these visits, your veterinarian should determine the best follow-up and home dental care program for your dog.
Basic home care should include regular tooth brushing to prevent problems from plaque accumulation. Make sure you use a pet toothpaste, because toothpastes designed for people can upset your dog's stomach.
Beyond brushing, dental toys, rope toys or rawhide chips can also help minimize plague. Avoid toys that are abrasive and can wear down the teeth. For especially aggressive chewers, look for toys your dog can’t get his mouth around. Rawhide or other chews that soften as the dog chews are another option.
Massaging your dog’s gums regularly can also help prevent dental disease by promoting healing of oral ailments. Massaging can also strengthen gums to reduce susceptibility to problems like gingivitis and tooth decay.
Today’s most common canine health issue, canine dental disease has increased by more than 12 percent since 2006, according to the State of Pet Health 2011 Report, which collected data from 2.1 million dogs in 2010. To play your part in reducing this trend, don't wait until your dog shows signs of distress to schedule a dental exam. Additionally: Keep in mind that your dog won't show signs of discomfort until suffering considerable pain. Address dental disease as soon as it is detected, no matter how minor – keeping in mind that preventative home care and annual checkups can keep your dog healthy and happy.
In continuation of our “What to Expect when you visit a Veterinary Specialist” series, in this podcast we bring you an interview with a veterinary oncologist, Dr. Rachel Reiman, of Lakeshore Veterinary Specialists in Port Washington, Wisconsin. Dr. Reiman completed her DVM at Kansas State University and her oncology residence at Louisiana State University. She is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine with a specialty in Oncology.
This podcast was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Kenneth A. Scott Charitable Trust, a KeyBank Trust.