Dental disease is one of the most common, yet serious, health problems in veterinary medicine, afflicting approximately 80% of dogs and 70% of cats by age three. Advanced stages of oral disease (periodontal disease) have been associated with distant organ diseases, especially the heart and kidneys. Gingivitis, which occurs at the gum line, advances to periodontitis, which is infection and inflammation of the deeper tissue surrounding and supporting the tooth.
Small dogs develop deeper infections faster than large dogs due to their proportions. Brachycephalic, or smushed-face dogs such as pugs and Boston terriers, get earlier disease because their teeth are crowded and frequently crooked, even turned sideways.
Clinical Signs. Symptoms can vary greatly but include:
- Bad breath
- Red, swollen gums
- Loose or broken teeth
- Heavy tartar
- Swelling or draining hole in face under the eye
- Difficulty eating (though not as common as you would think)
Treatment & Prevention. Brushing your pet’s teeth is the best preventative against many types of dental disease. Plaque hardens into tartar in 24-48 hours, so brushing needs to be done at least every other day, preferably daily. Pet toothpaste should be used — not human toothpaste because if swallowed, fluoride and detergents of human toothpaste can be harmful and cause vomiting.
There are lots of confusing products out there for dental care. Avoid those that could fracture your pet’s teeth, such as antlers and bones. Bully sticks can be too hard for most dogs’ enamel. The most common fracture is a slab fracture of the big, three-rooted carnaissal (or upper fourth premolar) tooth.
Good things to chew are C.E.T Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Chews, t/d Small Bites (also available for cats), and Greenies. There are good water additives available to decrease bacterial contents in the mouth without sterilizing the gut. There are also antiseptic sprays and gels to help with gum health.