Taking Care of That Toothy Grin

As the New Year starts moving forward, we once again take the time to focus specifically on oral health. Our dogs and cats are all born with teeth and carry them throughout their entire lives – hopefully! As such, they are subject to wear, decay, injury, infection, pain and ultimately loss. We as owners can make a difference in this process with the knowledge to help prevent accelerated injury or infection by recognizing early signs of these processes. I want to focus this blog on how we as owners can identify possible early issues, and seek the necessary veterinary help to clarify further or discuss what we are noticing. Use of our senses is the path I will follow.

By far and away SMELL is the most common one I have people come to me with – “ My dog’s breath is bad!” Not in all cases, but in many, by the time the smell gets so bad we are concerned about it, there is often significant disease present. Some other things to consider, the stomach is on the other side of the mouth, and some of our pets with stomach or upper GI issues will also have bad breath. As well, not all of us are on a french kissing basis with our dogs! Those that are would notice the smell more quickly given the close proximity. While knowing the smell is very good, some other senses may give us earlier clues.

Take a LOOK! Now I am under no illusion that looking in your dog or cat’s mouth is an easy thing to do. It is the reason we start getting owners to practice getting into their pets’ mouth at an early age – it is about later life situations. Although the odd toy or stick jammed between the teeth could require access to remove at any age! So what are we looking for? Not unlike what you look for when you check out your teeth in the mirror. Our pets have different tooth shapes but essentially are made the same way. Once the adult teeth come in, they are pearly white, as they age the whiteness fades just like in us. The gums should be a shiny and pink or pink-pigmented combination – just as in us. Changes in that look could indicate a problem. Look for redness at the gum line, yellow to brown colouration of the tooth, cracked, chipped or broken teeth, ulcers on the gums, lips or tongue. Evidence of blood in the mouth, pus, and black accumulation on the teeth are serious issues. Don’t just look in the mouth, watch your pet eat and play. Changes in head posture, dropping food, refusing to play with certain toys suddenly could all indicate possible teeth related issues.

LISTEN to your pet eating on occasion. Failure to be crunching food when they have been doing so all along should be a concern. Playing with toys or treats that are firm may result in sounds of discomfort. TOUCH and FEEL. Most of our pets enjoy being touched by us. The running of your fingers along jaws and sides of the face, while pleasing to the pet, usually, also can identify areas of discomfort. TASTE – the French kissing aside we will not use that sense to check your pets’ dental health!

Like so many things, early detection of problems often leads to better outcomes. Your veterinary team is there to help keep your pets’ healthy smile longer!

Written by: Dr. Tim Blatt, DVM