Health & Wellness
Your pet’s bad breath could signal a major problem. Don’t just hold your nose — that smelly odor may be the first and only hint that your dog is developing a dental disease.
Unfortunately, most pets don’t show signs of periodontal disease until after it’s progressed to irreversible damage. It’s one of the most common health issues in our pets but is preventable with some regular care.
Periodontal disease consists of two main stages: gingivitis and gum disease. Gingivitis in dogs begins with plaque, a collection of bacteria mixed with other components, adhering to your pup’s teeth. Plaque especially loves uneven tooth surfaces, such as a broken tooth or an area of missing enamel. Eventually, saliva hardens the plaque into unsightly calculus or tartar, a brownish-gray covering on the tooth, which can’t be removed with at-home treatments.
As plaque and calculus start to spread under the dog’s gum line, bacteria causes red, swollen gums. If left unchecked, this inflammation will begin to damage the soft and hard tissues that surround and support the teeth, at which point the condition becomes known as periodontitis.
As periodontitis progresses, your pet can develop loose teeth and a receding gum line. You may also notice signs that your pet is experiencing oral pain, such as reluctance to chew, pawing at the mouth or dropping food out of the mouth.
The bacteria responsible to your pet's condition can ultimately affect your pet’s overall health. An immune response triggered by the inflammation allows bacteria to enter the body through the bloodstream — potentially affecting the dog’s heart, liver and kidneys.
“Periodontal disease can also lead to more serious dental problems and many veterinary dentists point out that our pets experience pain when they have dental disease,” Dr. Kelly Diehl, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM (SAIM), a former vet and the senior scientific programs and communications adviser at Morris Animal Foundation, says.
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Be sure to visit your veterinarian for your pet’s annual health exam and whenever you notice a change in their breath or behavior. Just like people, pets need comprehensive oral health assessments and treatment that may include:
“One of the best ways to keep your pet’s teeth in good shape is something we all know for ourselves — brushing the teeth,” Dr. Diehl says. “Dogs, and even cats, can be trained to accept getting their teeth brushed.”
In some cases, a visit to a veterinary dental specialist may be needed. Veterinary dentists specialize in diagnosing and treating oral disease and injury in pets. They provide advanced treatments, such as complicated tooth extractions, root canal therapy, orthodontics, restorations and advanced surgical techniques.
The extent of treatment required depends on how long the condition has been allowed to progress. Gingivitis is reversible, and although the damage caused by periodontal disease may not be, it’s never too late to treat it and prevent the condition from worsening.
“If you notice an especially foul odor from your dog’s mouth, blood in their saliva, blood in a water or food bowl, excess salivation, pawing at the mouth or shying away from you touching their head, this could be a sign of oral cavity disease and you need to see your veterinarian right away,” Dr. Diehl says. “Dental pain can cause dogs to stop eating and that can have serious consequences.”
Consult with your veterinarian for a specific treatment and prevention program that’s tailored to your pet if you start to see signs of periodontal disease. Your veterinarian can also identify signs of other oral issues, which could include tooth resorption, stomatitis, fractured (broken) teeth, malocclusions, oral growths, retained deciduous (baby) teeth and many others.
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