Even the most conscientious dog owners can overlook a critical aspect of their dog’s health and well-being -- dental care. To maintain good oral hygiene and protect against periodontal disease, your dog’s teeth and gums must be cared for on a regular basis. Early detection of potential dental disorders can help you stop problems in their tracks before they lead to more serious medical conditions.
One of the most prevalent oral health issues in dogs is plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth, which, without treatment, can lead to gum infection, root damage, gingivitis and periodontal disease. Dogs who don't receive preventative care can develop soft, swollen gums, loose teeth and abscesses. All of these ailments can create bacteria buildup and a resulting infection that can become deadly if it enters the dog’s bloodstream.
Once infection from periodontal disease enters your dog’s bloodstream, it has the potential to damage major organ systems if not quickly identified and treated. Some forms of bacteria can thicken artery walls, leading to blood clots that can impact and even block blood flow. A blood clot in the lungs creates pulmonary thromboembolism, which can be deadly. Advanced gum disease can also lead to a heart condition known as endocarditis, an inflammation of a dog’s heart valves. Infection can damage the liver and consequently, other organ systems that rely on good liver function. Kidneys can also be damaged from untreated blood infections, and your dog can develop diabetes or even go into kidney failure as a result.
If your dog goes into organ failure due to a blood infection triggered by periodontal disease, your vet will likely take a multitiered approach to treatment. The first order of business will be to get the blood infection under control, typically through antibiotics. The doctor will simultaneously assess damage and determine a plan of action for halting or managing whatever serious medical issues developed. He will then address the periodontal disease. Your dog may need to have infected teeth removed or abscesses drained as part of the process.
Just like people, dogs need to have their teeth brushed daily. It's helpful if you can start this routine when a puppy is young and can get used to the idea of having his mouth touched. Specifically formulated canine toothpaste, dog toothbrushes and finger brushes can be helpful for eliminating food build up and removing plaque and tartar that can lead to periodontal disease. A regular trip to a veterinary dentist can also help you monitor your dog’s oral hygiene and dental health.
- PetMD: Bacterial Infection (Actinomycosis) in Dogs
- PetMD: Blood Clot in the Lungs in Dogs
- Texas A&M Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences: Pet Dental Health
- Veterinary Oral Health Council Acceptance: Periodontal Disease (Gum Disease) is the Most Common Disease Occurring in Pet Dogs and Cats
- Healthy Pets: How Improving Your Dog’s Teeth Could Save His Life
- Dr. Barchas: Dental Disease in Cats and Dogs
- VetInfo: Top 10 Causes of Liver Disease in Dogs
- Cam Day Consulting: Kidney Disease in Dogs and Cats
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images