dogsmiling270All of us dog lovers enjoy quality time snuggling with our furry best friends. However, as is the case with many dogs, when we get up close and personal their breath emanates a foul odour that keeps us at a distance.

Just like humans, a proper dental health routine is an essential element in the overall health and wellness of our pets. The mouth is the gateway to the body, making proper oral care among the most important considerations among all pet owners.

Did you know? More than 80% of dogs over the age of three have some form of dental disease.

This is certainly a staggeringly high number, and it serves as a legitimate warning for dog owners to take action while early stages of dental disease are still somewhat treatable.

When it comes to dental disease issues in dogs, prevention is the key. In my 25+ years in the pet industry, I find too many dog owners are reactive in nature, meaning they only make real efforts to address an issue once a problem has been identified. And in many cases with dental disease, by the time action is taken the disease has often progressed beyond the point of correction.

What is Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease is a progressive inflammatory condition affecting the structure of gum tissue (periodontium) surrounding the teeth. It is the most common disease affecting today’s dogs, and is the number one reason for early tooth loss in canines.

Early signs of periodontal disease begin with gingivitis, and if not treated early enough the infection will ultimately spread deeper into the teeth. As the infection spreads, it can lead to destruction of bone, leading to many problems including tooth loss.

There are thousands of bacteria in a dog’s mouth, and as the bacteria builds up on the surface of a tooth it creates plaque. As plaque thickens it turns into tartar, paving way for bacteria to infect the gums leading to gingivitis. Gingivitis is a mild form of periodontal disease that causes inflammation of the gum tissue (called gingiva) at the base of the teeth. Symptoms of gingivitis include redness, swelling, and irritation of the gums. If treated early enough, gingivitis is the only reversible stage of periodontal disease.

All dogs are different, so the rate at which a dog can develop periodontal disease varies; some dogs develop dental disease faster than others. Genetics, diet, and lifestyle are a few of the many factors that determine how susceptible a dog is to developing dental disease.

What can I do to prevent Periodontal Disease?

The best measure of dental disease prevention is to establish good dental health habits early on. Brushing daily using a natural dog-specific toothpaste is the foundation of a proper dental care regimen. And while brushing teeth offers tremendous benefits to dental health, frequency is the caveat. Consistent daily brushing is essential for removing bacteria from the teeth before it can build up and turn into plaque. At first, many pet owners begin brushing with the full intention of brushing daily, however our busy lives ultimately take over and we end up brushing less and less frequently over time.

Additionally, consider using an oral health supplement to help prevent dental disease in dogs. These supplements are often found in powder or liquid form, and are intended to be added to food or the drinking water. These products help break down plaque-causing bacteria in the mouth and prevent plaque from binding to the teeth.

Dental toys, chews, and treats all play a role in dental health, although these solutions are best used in combination with brushing. There are also a number of dental control kibbles on the market, however their efficacy is questionable, not to mention the majority of these products are low in quality, often containing fillers, fractions, and other undesirable ingredients. Moreover, certain dry kibbles can be high in simple carbohydrates and sugars, promoting rapid growth of oral bacteria.

Alternatively, pet owners are increasingly turning to raw dog foods as a means of improving dental health. Not only do raw dog foods contain ground bone which helps scrape bacteria from the teeth, raw ingredients contain naturally occurring enzymes to protect the teeth and promote better dental health.

When you have exhausted all these options, the last resort is a thorough dental cleaning by a qualified veterinarian. The vet will scale, polish, and remove plaque from all tooth surfaces while your dog is anesthetized. The vet may also do x-rays to evaluate the degree of bone loss caused by dental disease. In many cases with periodontal disease, certain teeth may need to be extracted.

When it comes to proper dental health, the answer is seldom a single-pronged solution. There is no universal 'magic bullet' remedy for dental disease in all dogs. By taking consistent preventative measures, dental disease is completely preventable - all it takes is a little preparation and commitment.

Brandon Forder, known as The Pet Expert, is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, an industry leader in healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon holds multiple certifications in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years' experience specializing in pet health and behaviour. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the popular Ask the Pet Expert Blog. Brandon is highly skilled in pet problem solving, and enjoys teaching others about smart and responsible pet ownership. To learn more, visit www.CanadianPetConnection.ca.