Keeping your dog's teeth clean and healthy is one of the most important things you can do for your pet. That's because dental disease can lead to problems throughout his body. You make regular trips to the dentist for teeth cleaning and brush your teeth at least twice daily for your own health. Your dog needs the same basic attention.
Dental disease in dogs doesn't include just tooth problems, but also those of the gums. Tartar collecting on the dog's teeth eventually causes gingivitis, or gum inflammation. If untreated, gingivitis progresses to tooth root or periodontal disease. Besides the poor appearance of the teeth, symptoms of dental disease include bad breath, excessive salivation, inflamed gums, poor coat quality, facial swelling, appetite and weight loss and lethargy. Although any dog can suffer from dental disease, it's especially common in toy breeds, who have a full set of teeth crammed into little mouths.
Dogs with dental disease bring bacteria into other parts of the body every time they swallow or inhale. As time goes on, this bacteria can damage various organs and systems in the body, including the heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. Relatively healthy young dogs might not be as affected, but infections can hit older dogs, with decreased immunity, particularly hard. Not taking proper care of your dog's teeth can potentially shorten his lifespan.
Your dog's heart is particularly vulnerable to bacteria stemming from dental issues. Mouth bacterial infections often head to the heart valves, and over time can cause these valves to leak blood into the heart's chambers, which your vet hears as a heart murmur. Eventually, this pressure causes fluid to build up in the lungs, resulting in pulmonary edema. At that point, your dog begins coughing from the fluids in the lungs and requires emergency veterinary treatment.
Proper care of the teeth includes not only regular cleaning, but feeding your dog a good diet. Ask your vet to recommend the best food for your dog and his lifestyle. Your vet will inspect your dog's teeth at his annual checkup. If necessary, your pet might require a professional cleaning done under anesthesia. At home, brush your dog's teeth every day with toothpaste designed for canines. Your vet might prescribe rinses and gels to prevent plaque buildup.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.