Keeping Your Dog's Mouth Healthy
A healthy mouth is a happy mouth, in people and in pets. Dogs need to have healthy teeth, tongues, gums, lips and hard and soft palates to be able to eat, chew and drink normally. Feeding dry kibble as the main part of a dog’s diet helps to keep its teeth clean and its gums healthy. A number of different toys, chew treats and dental diets for dogs are increasingly on the market, claiming to prevent buildup of food particles, plaque and tarter and promote overall oral health.
Symptoms of an Unhealthy Mouth
One of the first things that owners notice if their dog has something wrong with its mouth is a change in eating patterns and behavior, typically associated with pain. The dog may eat gingerly and drop some of its food on the floor. It may tilt its head to one side and chew on the other side, or it may stop eating altogether. Weight loss is not uncommon. Gagging, choking and difficulty swallowing can be associated with a foreign object lodged in the mouth or throat. Underneath the tongue is one of the more common places for sticks, safety pins, needles and other pointy things to get stuck.
Red, inflamed, painful, bleeding gums are never a good sign. They are caused by gingivitis and periodontitis, two medical conditions of the teeth and gums which unfortunately are fairly prevalent in pet dogs. Normally, the edges of healthy gums fit tightly around the teeth. Dogs with gingivitis get a noticeable buildup of tartar (also called calculus) along their gum line, which creates pockets that trap food and set up a ripe environment for bacteria to grow. At first, tartar is soft and a yellowish-brown; at this stage, it is called “plaque.” Within a short period of time, plaque hardens into tough, rough tartar on most tooth surfaces – especially on the outer side of the upper teeth facing the cheek. Periodontitis is a continuation of this inflammatory and infectious disease process, in which the roots of the teeth become infected, and the teeth eventually fall out. Owners of dogs with advanced dental disease may see blood and pus oozing from the gum line.
Drooling (“ptyalism”) is common in dogs with unhealthy mouths, as is bad breath (“halitosis”). Any amount of bad breath in a dog is abnormal and should be investigated and treated.
Consequences of Unhealthy Mouths
Dogs with unhealthy mouths usually are suffering some degree of pain. This can be from a laceration or embedded foreign object such as a stick or stone, or it can be due to tartar and plaque build-up and inflammation along the gum line. Gingivitis and periodontitis can cause a tremendous amount of pain and even tooth loss. Dogs with advanced periodontal disease may need to have all of their teeth pulled to resolve the condition. Masses or tumors in the mouth can be benign or malignant. They can cause some degree of discomfort and can also interfere mechanically with a dog’s ability to eat and drink.
Fortunately, with dietary management and good dental care, including routine in-home tooth brushing, most owners can keep their dog’s mouth healthy, its breath pleasant and its tail wagging.