February is Pet Dental Health Month and an excellent time to give your dog’s mouth and teeth some extra attention.The American Veterinary Medical Association
estimates that up to 70% of all dogs have some form of gum disease.
What’s in a dog’s mouth
A dog has four types of teeth:
- Incisors, those six, flat, small teeth in the front of the muzzle between the fangs on the upper jaw and lower jaw. These teeth allow a dog to pick things up, scrape scraps of meat off bones and nibble fleas and other irritants away from his coat or skin.
- Canines, or fangs, to grab and hold food, prey or toys.
- Premolars, there are four of these teeth behind each fang, for chewing. If you hand a dog a toy or a bone, he will take it with his fangs and incisors and then settle down to chew on the sides of his mouth.
- Molars. There are two on each side of the upper jaw just behind the premolars, and three on each side of the lower jaw just behind the premolars. These are the bone-crushing teeth. A mastiff can bite down with a force of more than 550 pounds of pressure. (By comparison, a lion or a white shark have bite forces of about 600 pounds.)
Dogs don’t tend to get cavities, but do get gum disease. Hard kibble, bones, biscuits or chew toys help scrape away tartar at the gum line. Additives to food and water are also available to help improve dog dental health.
Older dogs and those that eat softer food – canned food or meats – should have their teeth brushed regularly to prevent gum problems.
Getting a dog to tolerate tooth brushing should start when he’s a puppy. Use a medium bristled brush made for a dog with plain water or special toothpaste made for dogs. (Human toothpaste can upset a dog’s digestive tract, if swallowed.) The You Tube video that follows shows how to brush a dog’s teeth.
Take the process slowly and reward often as the dog gets more comfortable having his muzzle and mouth handled.
The price of tooth decay
If a dog’s teeth aren’t cleaned, a film of bacteria coats the teeth. This is plaque. It begins to harden as saliva washes over the teeth, leaving behind minerals. In about 10 days, it becomes rock hard calculus or tartar. Tartar’s rough surface encourages more bacteria and plaque.
Plaque and tartar irritate the gums. Without attention, the fibers that keep the teeth attached to the gums begin to loosen. In time, the teeth will fall out. Signs of gum disease include:
- Red, swollen or bleeding gums
- Staining (yellowish, brownish or crusty white) on the teeth along the gum line
- Bad breath
- Loose or missing teeth
Vet office dental care
For most dogs, regular cleanings in a vet’s office are needed. Any vet can clean a dog’s teeth; veterinary dentists are specialists. The American Veterinary Dental College
offers a state-by-state list of veterinary dentists.
The dog is put to sleep so the dentist can scrape away the build up and polish the teeth so that bacteria aren’t as able to settle in. The cost of cleaning your dog’s teeth
ranges from $70 to $350.
Anesthesia-free teeth cleaning is also available for dogs. It’s important to ask whether the person doing the cleaning has any veterinary or human dental cleaning experience, what their credentials are, and what the process involves.
Dog dental care and health problems
The health of a dog’s teeth are a window to her overall health. The mouth is a threshold between the environment and the inside of the body. Bacteria on the teeth and gums combined with a lost tooth can lead to blood stream and heart infections.
Factoids about dogs’ teeth
- Dogs have 28 “puppy” or milk teeth. (We only have 20.)
- At four months, the puppy begins to get a set of 42 adult teeth. (We only have 32 permanent teeth.)
- Puppies loose their incisors first, then fangs and lastly premolars
- The larger the dog and the wider its jaw, the more bite force the dog is capable of.
- While a mastiff has a bite force of 552 pounds, a human can only produce 120 pounds of bite pressure.
- The average claims amount submitted for dog teeth cleaning by Veterinary Pet Insurance policyholders is $292.
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