Good dental health is vital to your dog's happiness and overall welfare, and good dental health begins with good teeth. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), 80 percent of dogs exhibit oral health problems by age 3. Bad teeth can lead to periodontal disease, which can lead to gum problems, tooth loss and possible damage to other organs, such as the heart, liver and kidneys.
Types of Problems
Many things can cause bad teeth, but the primary causes are plaque and tartar build-up, tooth decay or cavities, dental fractures and "bite problems." Although plaque and tartar build-up are the most common cause, dental fractures are very common in dogs that chew frequently on very hard objects, such as commercially available cow hooves. Obvious signs of bad teeth are tooth discoloration and broken teeth, which are easily seen by opening your dog's mouth and inspecting its teeth.
Plaque and Tartar
Gum, or periodontal, disease is caused by plaque and tartar, and is the most common dental condition affecting dogs. Saliva and food debris combine between the teeth to cause plaque formations on teeth. If allowed to accumulate, bacteria will grow and irritate the gum tissue. This can lead to bone infection surrounding the teeth. Calcium salts from saliva turn the plaque into tartar, which begins to form within just a few days if the tooth surface is not clean.
Symptoms and Signs
The most obvious sign of plaque and tartar built-up, especially near the gum line, is discolored teeth--ranging from yellow to brown to black--especially along the sides and back. Other signs include bad breath, bleeding and inflammation of the gums, receding gums and loose or missing teeth. A change in eating or chewing habits, depression and pawing at the face or mouth can also signal bad teeth or other dental problems.
Prevention and Solutions
The first step toward prevention of bad teeth is to inspect your dog's mouth on a regular basis. This should begin at about 3 to 4 weeks, when a puppy's 28 temporary teeth begin to erupt. It should be a regular routine by the time your dog is 4 months old, which is when its 42 permanent teeth begin to emerge. A regular dental care regime should include not only a visual inspection of your dog's teeth, but also regular tooth brushing with canine toothpaste.
A routine physical exam by a veterinarian, which includes a dental exam, is an important part of making sure your dog has good teeth. A professional can recommend the best oral hygiene program for your dog and provide the best advice on chew toys. A vet can also help you choose the best diet for your dog and teach you how to avoid feeding soft or sticky foods--a major cause of plaque and tartar build-up.