You are spending quality time with your Fido, but you feel something is amiss. Oh no! Its breath smells bad, making you grimace in disgust. Why? Reality check: Oral health is more than having a cool, fresh breath but it also aids in improving your dog’s quality of life. Bad breath is one of the most common complaints, noted VCA, an operator of over 1,000 animal hospitals in the US and Canada. In fact, it is a symptom of more severe dental diseases!
Dog Owners’ Perspective on Canine Dental Health (June 2020)
The largest breed groups were Breed group 8 (Retrievers, Flushing Dogs, Water Dogs), dogs of mixed breed (15%), and Group 9 (Companion and Toy Dogs) (15%), according to Karolina Brunius Enlund and colleagues of Frontiers In Veterinary Science, a global, peer-reviewed, open-access journal. 78% of owners rated their dog’s general health as very good while 50% rated their pets’ dental health as very good. Among owners of dogs over three years of age, 38% rated their pets’ dental health as very good. Among breeds with ≥ 100 respondents per breed, those who owned Briard (78%), Dobermann (77%), and Giant Schnauzer (76%) were most likely to say that their dog had very good dental health. On the other hand, owners of Prazský krysarík (19%), Chinese crested dog (25%), Pomeranian (25%), Italian Greyhound (25%), and Chihuahua (27%) dogs were least likely to say that their pets had very good dental health.
Further, owners of Pug (34%), Chihuahua (21%), Yorkshire Terrier (17%), Pomeranian (16%) and Papillon (16%) dogs were most likely to express their difficulty in inspecting their pets’ teeth. The difficulties they encountered when inspecting their dogs’ teeth were: the dog is in pain (0.6%), the dog gets angry (7.5%), or the pet does not want to (79.1%). Other difficulties included the respondents’ own impaired physical ability (2.1%) or they do not know how to inspect their dogs’ teeth (9%). 31.6% said inspecting their animals’ teeth was technically/practically difficult to perform.
80.2% of owners said their dog’s dental health is very important. Additionally, 84.4% said they regarded good general health as very important for good dental health while the breed was regarded as very important by 31.6% of respondents. 47.7% of owners reported halitosis to some degree whereas 37.3% noted the presence of dental calculus. Among owners who cleaned their pets’ teeth, 34.7% cited occasional bleeding. 13.1% said their dogs had been previously anesthetized prior to cleaning while 7.7% of dogs suffered problems from gum disease/mobile teeth.
What Are the Most Common Dental Diseases or Disorders In Dogs?
1. Periodontal Disease
It's caused by bacteria found in dental plaque, often starting as a mild tooth discoloration. If your dog’s teeth are not regularly brushed, the plaque accumulates and minerals in the saliva solidify the plaque into hard tartar, attaching firmly on the teeth. You will be able to see tartar above your dog’s gum line, but that is not what causes periodontal diseases. In fact, it only causes periodontal disease when tartar digs into and under the gums, trapping bacteria and triggering a cycle of infection and damage to the supporting tissues around the affected tooth.
Gingivitis occurs when tartar digs into and below the gum tissue, turning it red and causing inflammation and irritation. Then, plaque bacteria are continuously introduced below the gum line, cause gum infection of varying degrees.
Plaque bacteria below the gumline release toxic substances, inflicting further damage to the tissue. The immune system of your dog will stimulate due to the inflammation and damage caused by the bacteria. The immune system summons white blood cells and other inflammatory chemicals in an attempt to eliminate the bacteria. However, many supporting soft and bony tissues of the tooth are damaged during this process— and this condition is known as periodontitis. In this case, there is active gingivitis and periodontitis as soon as periodontal disease is established.
4. Endodontic Disease
Causes include tooth fracture, tooth decay, injury, enamel abnormality, and tooth fracture, said Alexander M. Reiter, DT, DMV, DAVDC, DEVDC, of MSD Veterinary Manual, a trusted source of animal health information. Teeth can be fractured due to aggressive play, a traffic accident, or from biting inappropriate objects like hooves and rocks. Symptoms include painful teeth or your pet is reluctant in being petted. A reddish-brown, purple, or gray color tooth is another sign of endodontic diseases. Swelling on the face or decreased appetite is a red flag of endodontic disease.
5. Improper Bite
The mouth and teeth will develop and grow properly depending on a series of events. These dental developments must occur in proper order or it will lead to long-term complications. Initially, puppies are born with longer upper jaw (Stage 1: 0 to 16 weeks of age). As they grow and begin to consume solid food, their lower jaw undergoes a growth spurt.
If the lower baby teeth grew prior to the growth spurt, they can get caught behind the upper teeth, impairing the lower jaw’s ability to develop to its proper length. The lower jaw can also grow faster than usual or becomes too long for the upper jaw, thus resulting in an “underbite.” In Stage 2 (16 weeks to 7 months of age), shedding begins when the puppies around 14 weeks of age, along with losing their upper central incisors. In the next three months, permanent teeth will replace the baby teeth. If the latter is not lost as soon as the former grows, it can result in abnormal tooth position and bite. The last stage (7 months to 1½ years of age) can prompt other forms of incorrect tooth placement to arise. If necessary, treatment may include orthodontic treatment or tooth extraction.
6. Fracture to the Face and Jaw
Teeth and jaws can be fractured due to trauma from falls, fighting with other animals, traffic accidents, and more. Your dog’s jaw can be fractured if it has been weakened due to severe periodontitis or cancer. Fractured teeth should be examined by your veterinarian to assess whether there is damage to the tooth pulp. If fractures reach into the pulp, your veterinarian will recommend root canal (endodontic) treatment or tooth extraction.
How Important Is Nutrition?
Did you know that food plays a role in ensuring your dog's dental health and overall well-being? Normal dry food is beneficial to your dog as biting on kibbles helps it clean its teeth, said Hill’s Pet, an American pet food company. Feeding your dog with the right dog food is important. Hence, it is strongly recommended to consult your veterinarian if they can suggest an appropriate kibble for your pet. Don’t forget to ask your veterinarian about any food your dog should avoid due to dental disorders/diseases.
Never take dental health for granted! While bad breath may be brushed off as something trivial, it is actually a sign of severe dental disease. Consult your veterinarian on how to properly brush your dog’s teeth and to maintain its oral health.