At about 3 years of age Jesse started to develop some serious plaque on her molars and as a “good dog mom” I would try to brush her teeth as much as she would allow me to. This was, and still is, NOT an easy task. Even with the oh so appetizing chicken flavored toothpaste the brushing lasts no more than 30 seconds a side. So I wasn’t that surprised when our veterinarian recommended she have a routine dental cleaning to have the plaque and tartar removed.
They started off with x-rays of her mouth and it did not look good. Her bad breath and tartar were a more than just that - she had periodontal disease. This included some serious bone loss and the routine dental cleaning turned out to be a major tooth extraction process!!! I thought my goodness, I am an awful mother, how could I have not known - her teeth didn’t seem that bad and I had tried to brush them!
Our wonderful vet consoled me - this was nothing that I could have prevented. As a rescue we had never been sure of her breed but - Jesse was probably a Whippet mix and this was hereditary. A close cousin of the Greyhound - their family tree has a high rate of early-onset periodontal disease. They are also prone to several genetic conditions of the tooth enamel that can leave them at risk for painful infections, root exposure and tooth loss. Unfortunately, periodontal disease does irreversible damage. However, the treatment of current conditions combined with future preventative care can keep disease from progressing further.
If you haven’t seen or heard by now - February is National Pet Dental Health Month. Dental health is a very important part of your pet’s overall health. It can cause or be caused by other health issues. Yellow teeth, red gums, drooling and bad breath are not just cosmetic - these can be signs of serious disease which can affect your pet’s heart, liver or kidney function.
You can do your best to prevent oral disease by developing a healthy eating plan - feeding quality pet food and treats. Have your pet’s mouth checked at least once a year by your veterinarian. In between check ups regularly brushing your pet’s teeth is the single most effective thing to reduce the growth of bacteria.
A few tips on brushing your pet’s teeth
- Use a specially designed dog toothbrush or a recommended alternative.
- Never use human toothpaste. Instead, use pet-safe toothpaste with a flavor favorable to your dog’s taste buds.
- Give your dog a small sample of the toothpaste to introduce the taste.
- Lift the lip to expose the outside surfaces of your dog’s gums and teeth.
- Brush with gentle motions to clean the teeth and gums, as you would your own.
- Clean the outside (cheek-facing) surfaces, as most pets will not allow you to brush the inside surface of the teeth.
- Be sure to reach the back upper molars and canines, as these teeth tend to quickly build up tartar.
- Reward your dog with play, petting or a favorite activity to positively reinforce the brushing process.
Persistent bad breath can indicate larger medical problems in the mouth, respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, or internal organs. Diabetes, specifically diabetic ketoacidosis, can also make a dog’s breath smell unusual, giving it a sweet, almost fruity smell. Uncontrolled diabetes can suppress the immune system, allowing bacteria in the mouth to grow unchecked.
Like Jesse, there are a few other breeds which are particularly susceptible to oral disease. Pugs, Yorkshire Terriers, Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, Shelties, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Maltese are all among the top prone breeds.
The good news is - keeping on top of your pet’s dental health has lasting positive effects. Studies suggest that maintaining oral health can add up to 5 years to your pet’s life. That means plenty of extra kisses!