Humans are lucky creatures – we’ve got hands, fingers and opposable thumbs to pick up treats, throw balls, tug ropes and give our furry companions loads of cuddles with.
Our dogs aren’t as lucky. While they’ve got four (adorable) paws to walk around on, they rely upon their mouths to do all the things our hands do, plus taking care of eating and self-grooming!
This is why dental health and hygiene is of utmost importance when taking care of our dogs. Looking after your dog’s teeth is one of the best things you can do to ensure they live a long, happy and healthy life.
Why is dental health so important?
Global studies have revealed that more than 80% of dogs over the age of 3 have dental disease, with the most common problem being periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease is when food and bacteria in your dog’s mouth builds up on the surfaces of the teeth (like plaque does on human teeth). This isn’t to be confused with tooth staining, which can occur due to the types of food that dogs eat – similar to how human teeth discolour when we drink coffee.
When food and bacteria build up inside a dog’s mouth, it becomes a hard and cement-like structure that we call tartar (or calculus). As tartar continues to build on teeth, it can cause gingivitis (gum inflammation) or even worse – tooth decay and loss. It can even cause teeth to fracture or develop abscesses (infections) in the tooth root.
Signs of dental disease in dogs include:
- Swollen or bleeding gums
- Difficulty eating
- Redness in the mouth
- Avoidance behaviour around hard foods
- Abnormal looking teeth and gums
Dental disease can be incredibly painful for your dog to experience, and can prevent them from playing, eating and sleeping properly, leading to an overall decline in their health and happiness. Luckily, there are things you can do to look after your dog’s teeth to ensure they don’t end up with chronic pain – or stinky breath!
How to look after your dog’s teeth at home
One of the biggest barriers to looking after your dog’s teeth is getting them comfortable with you touching their mouths. Working on this as soon as your dog is settled into your family will go a long way to ensure you can look after their teeth properly. Using a command like “check” when you want to check them all over can be helpful, as they’ll begin to understand that what you’re doing won’t last for hours. Having a treat handy to give to them once you’ve finished checking them over will reinforce the idea that their patience will be rewarded every time you do this.
Once your dog is comfortable with you touching their mouths and looking at their teeth, you can start brushing their teeth. You can often get a toothbrush plus toothpaste pack from your local pet store whether it’s a brush similar to what you’d use on your own teeth or a rubber finger brush that you slip on your finger and use on their teeth directly. Alternatively a soft kid’s toothbrush can be used to brush your pet’s teeth.
Using pet-specific toothpaste, such as one that is peanut butter flavoured, will help reinforce with your dog that the act is as much of a reward as the treats are! If you’re not sure what to use to brush their teeth, our friendly team at Matraville Veterinary Practice can advise you on different tools to use.
Diet is also important when it comes to dental health; using special dental chews can also maintain tooth and gum hygiene, particularly for fussy dogs that struggle with brushing! And if your dog is really struggling with their dental health, you can bring them to us for professional dental cleaning.
Dental health at the vet
If you have pet insurance, you’re in luck – routine checks are typically covered by most providers. We’ll take a look at your dog’s overall dental hygiene and determine whether or not they’re on track, or if they need a little extra help to maintain their toothy grins.
At Matraville Veterinary Practice we can provide dental cleaning (otherwise known as scale and polish) to remove visible plaque and tartar on your dog’s teeth, as well as below the gumline. It’s a quick procedure done under a short general anaesthetic, using state-of-the-art veterinary dental equipment.
If it looks like your dog has serious dental disease, we’ll take dental radiographs to check for damage to the tooth and root systems, just like you would if you went to visit your dentist. We’ll talk you through any concerns we find and discuss a plan for dental surgery if necessary.
Easy does it
Remember – if you regularly look after your dog’s teeth, you’ll be able to avoid dental disease and any need for surgery. By keeping your dog’s teeth clean and healthy, you’re giving them more than just fresh breath!
If you’re not sure where to start with your own pet, Matraville Veterinary Practice is here to help – give us a call and we’ll take you through the process, step by step.
We are also offering a dental promotion at the movement: get $150 off ANY dental procedure!