February is Pet Dental Health Month, so what better time to talk about sweetening those puppy kisses? I want to talk about why keeping up with your dog’s oral hygiene is an especially loving thing to do. It is much more important than just freshening breath. The dangers of not keeping your dog’s teeth clean are serious and may really surprise you.
You’ve likely heard of periodontal disease in dogs. Over 80% of dogs show signs of periodontal disease by 3 years old. So what is periodontal disease exactly? It is a non-reversible breakdown of the tissues surrounding the teeth. It starts when bacteria in your dog’s mouth and food particles combine to form plaque, a filmy deposit, just like in humans. This plaque sticks to your dogs teeth. If it’s not removed, the plaque will react to minerals in your dog’s saliva and will harden into tartar. The hard, calcified tartar will irritate gums and cause inflammation (gingivitis). As long as the tartar is present, it will continually push bacteria under your dog’s gums until it begins to destroy the supporting tissue that surround the teeth. This is called periodontitis. The combination of this damage from gingivitis and periodontitis is periodontal disease. The damage to the oral tissue and teeth caused by decay is painful, irreversible and leads to tooth loss or necessary removal.
So besides bad breath from decay, pain, and tooth loss, what’s the danger? Gums are very vascular, full of blood vessels. When tartar irritates the gums, it creates a conduit to the bloodstream. The hard deposits of proliferating tartar create a constant leak of bacteria into the bloodstream. Where is this bacteria transported to? Everywhere the blood travels, including the organs. The damage to these organs is irreversible, and of course we know, damaged organs means a shorter lifespan.
There is one organ in particular where damage can be easily (and scarily) observed through a clear statistical link. The organ is the heart. There is a correlation between periodontal disease and heart disease in dogs (and humans too!). Looking specifically at one of the contributing factors in cases of heart disease in dogs, endocarditis, or inflammation of the heart valves, the correlation grows stronger. It’s unsurprising to see endocarditis in dogs who have gingivitis and periodontitis. It’s easy to see how the same bacteria that is causing inflammation in the mouth hitches a ride through the bloodstream to the heart where it has a similar effect.
A second way that periodontal disease contributes to heart disease lies in the proteins produced by the specific strains of bacteria found in your dog’s mouth. The proteins are very sticky. When the bacteria travel through the bloodstream, these proteins gradually adhere to the walls of the arteries and overtime lead to thickening and hardening. The irreversibly damaged arteries can no longer perform optimally, a contributing factor in heart disease.
If you didn’t know just how important oral hygiene is for your dog, you’re not alone. Or maybe you did know, but it fell to the back burner. Either way, what step you take moving forward depends on the condition of your dog’s teeth.
If your dog has any hard tartar on their teeth, they should be examined by a vet who will likely suggest a dental cleaning under anesthesia. An oral examination is usually part of every well check up at the vet, so don’t hesitate to ask questions. Even if it appears that the tartar is away from the gums and you think you can wear it away over time, we can’t see what’s going on under the gum line. A professional cleaning then maintenance is the healthy, responsible route to take.
If your dog has a lot of hard tartar on their teeth, they have very foul breath, bleeding gums or seem to be in pain, the same course of action as above is appropriate. Talk to your vet. The dental cleaning for these dogs is a little more extreme and may require extractions. The sooner you get your dog’s teeth taken care of, the sooner the ill effects will be slowed.
After your dog has a dental cleaning under anesthesia, you must maintain their clean teeth. You want to try to prevent them from needing another veterinary dental. Maintenance is so easy and healthier than letting tartar build up on your dog’s teeth again and putting them under anesthesia multiple times.
If your dog’s pearly whites are still naturally pearly white, or if your dog has just undergone a dental cleaning under anesthesia, let’s talk about maintenance. Maintenance means regularly cleaning your dog’s teeth at home. It doesn’t have to be difficult or messy. You have options.
Many of these toothpastes are enzymatic so they keep working to clean your dog’s teeth even if you miss spots. You can use a regular toothbrush or a smaller, gentler one that fits on the tip of your finger. Choose depending on what’s appropriate for your dog. We sell enzymatic toothpaste and extra long toothbrushes to get those back teeth on bigger dogs and small fingertip brushes in the boutique at Cold Nose Lodge.
Enzymatic gels that don’t require brushing are so easy to use. At the Lodge, we sell this type of gel from the brand Tropiclean. The Tropiclean gel comes in a container with a nozzle that you stick into each side of your dog’s mouth to dispense a drop. That’s it! So easy, clean, and just takes a second. We also sell natural Earthbath tooth and gum wipes as well as a variety of other dental care products in the boutique at Cold Nose Lodge.
In conjunction with an at home teeth cleaning method, giving your dog something to chew on, for example, a Benebone, No Hide, or Antler will help them keep their teeth plaque free. Rope toys also work well. Stop into Cold Nose Lodge and our staff will gladly direct you to the appropriate chews and dental care products specifically for your dog.
Does your dog hate getting their teeth brushed? Try using a toothpaste with a flavor that might be more appealing, like chicken! Still not a fan? Start out slow cleaning only one or two teeth the first day and working your way up with plenty of praise. You can also consider the no-brush enzymatic gel or spray.
Be sure to check your dog’s teeth often to make sure your method is working. Dogs have unique oral chemistry and what will work for one dog, may not work for another. Just keep an eye out for build-up and adjust your method as necessary.
Remember, keeping your dog’s teeth clean is an amazing gift to give them. The cost of maintenance pales in comparison to the cost, both monetary and emotional, of neglecting your dog’s oral health. Prevent them from getting an infection, needing emergency surgery for difficult tooth removal, and organ damage. Plus, their kisses will be sweeter than ever.