How to Develop a Healthy Mouth for Dogs: Day-to-Day Practical Guide

Healthy Mouth for Dogs
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

A healthy mouth for dogs is one of the most important things that you should prioritize if you wish to keep your pet in good health. Why? Because it is through this that he or she acquires nutrition and any infection in the mouth can easily get to the bloodstream and be distributed around the body. It is therefore necessary to keep a close attention to this part of their body and not only to the type of food that you give them.

In order to gain overall health, it is necessary not only to look at the materials that you provide but to the “tool” or “instrument” that is used to digest those materials. Although this can seem to be the normal thing to do for some dog owners, a lot of people who own pets do not take the necessary step to care for their dog’s oral health.

More often than not, people have this mentality that animals can “naturally” care for their mouth and expect their dogs to have good oral health even after years of not putting any efforts of a giving them a dental hygiene. This, together with a poor lifestyle, breed, type of diet, and other factors can contribute to the overall deterioration of a dog’s oral health.

So how come dogs in the past did not have many problems with oral health? This is what dog owners ask as they think that dogs did not have them before. But the fact is that they did have oral problems but it is only today that proper knowledge and study of their oral problems have been conducted.

Puppie yawning

Signs of a healthy mouth for dogs

To determine if your pet has healthy mouth, here is a guideline on what you should look for in their mouth. But before you can do that, you need to make sure that your pet is already used to having their mouth handled or you may risk your hands getting bitten. To do this, you need to get practice massaging their mouths slowly and longer as time goes by.

But if your dog does not want to be touched in the head or in the mouth, they may already be experiencing pain in that area which is a sign that they already have dental problems. If this is the case, then you have to bring your dog to a veterinarian to see what is bothering your dog.

  • Nice doggy breath. Although there is a certain “smell” to your dog’s mouth, it should not be something that is offensive and malodorous. Dogs will have a different type of breath since they have a different diet and due to the natural composition of their body or if they had recently eaten something that smells as well.
    But, if their breath is something that smells too acidic or like rotten flesh, then it is time to visit the dental vet to see what the problem is. Never put this issue aside as something that is natural because even though they are animals, it does not mean that they should have stinky breath.
  • Pink gums. Just like in humans, a dog also needs to have a pink-colored gums and not purple or bright red. This seems to be one of the most overlooked aspects when inspecting dog oral health at home especially if the owner is not used to looking under their pet’s flaps every now and then. A dog’s gums may be showing signs of dental problem while the owner may not notice it since their gums are usually hidden. It is important to check your dog’s gums every now and then to see if there are any signs of bleeding as well.
  • Properly aligned set of teeth. A healthy mouth for dogs must have properly aligned teeth and healthy dog teeth. A dog has a total of 42 teeth and most of them are made for tearing out meat and other similar types of food rather than grinding them. The teeth should be white and have a smooth and straight edge. Proper alignment helps dogs to eat their food properly.
    Smaller breeds are prone to have a misaligned “bite” of their teeth so it is important to pay attention to the growth of their teeth while they are still pups. This problem can be due to hereditary reasons or to the presence of deciduous teeth which have not fallen out properly.

Types and causes of canine oral problems

So how do you know when your dog already has oral problems? Dogs are not like humans who can often complain about tooth problems especially painful ones. Most of them do not pay much attention to their pain and they often do not “voice it out” until it is extremely painful or is bothering them a lot.

It is important to provide a keen observation of your pet’s habits to learn whether they are having dental problems or not. Unlike humans, they cannot talk or speak and say that their gums are aching or that they need to see the dentist or take oral medications to ease their pain.

  • Plaque – This is the starting point of almost all types of dental problems in dogs. A plaque is a yellowish or brownish stain that you can see on your dog’s teeth.
    It is composed of bacteria, dead epithelial cells, and food particles which have not been mechanically removed, either by the dog’s tongue or by brushing, from the surface of the teeth. This condition if often caused by an acidic oral environment and with the buildup of food particles which the dog cannot remove by himself or has not been brushed away. It usually takes 12 to 24 hours for a plaque to form.
  • Gingivitis – Gingivitis is present when the dog has a red and swollen gum. This is caused by bacteria that have penetrated the “pocket” between the tooth and the gums. The bacteria release toxic chemicals that destroy the tissues and weaken the overall structure and integrity of the tissues thus leading to bleeding gums.
    You will also notice that the gums are darker in color, somewhat reddish or purplish compared to healthy gums which are pink. Gingivitis is a painful condition and can affect your pet’s eating habits and may even lead to the loss of tooth and more serious problems if left unchecked.
  • Periodontitis – This is a more advanced oral problem and occurs in dogs after years of neglect in terms of oral hygiene. In this condition, bacteria that come from plaque has already progressed in severity and have penetrated deeper into the sub gingival cavity destroying ligaments and bone structures producing abbesses in the gums.
    This can also lead to jaw fractures and the deterioration of kidneys, heart, lungs and brain as the infection spreads in the body through the exposed blood vessels in the mouth which connects to the bloodstream. It is therefore important to control the progress of this disease as it wreaks havoc in the dog’s body.
  • Mouth tumors – These are certain clumps or masses that you can see or feel in and around your dog’s mouth. Not all tumors call for an emergency surgery since some of them can often be benign or inactive. This means that the cells are not multiplying and will not cause any further problem aside from the fact that it can bother or get in the way in your dog’s chewing or swallowing.
    It is important to visit the vet in order to determine whether the tumor can be cancerous or not. More often than not, dogs which have flea collars develop these masses compared to other dogs. They can also be caused by poor nutrition and an inactive lifestyle.
  • Broken tooth and jaws – Most of the time, dogs can break parts of their tooth off or even break their jaws due to hard objects that they chew. But, they can also be caused by traumatic incidents such as being bumped by a car or falling off from an elevated area.
    It can also be caused by poor bone structure which means that they are not getting enough calcium in their bones or are not engaging in physical activities that help build bone material. Check your dog’s teeth every now and then to see if there is any missing parts of their teeth or if their jaws are somewhat dislocated.

There are many reasons why your dog may have stinky breath, and you can discover what they are in our article on the causes of doggy bad breath.

Effects of poor dental health in dogs

To further understand the importance of a dog’s oral condition in their overall health, let us see what the effects are of a poor oral health. This ranges from the simple inability to eat properly to the overall enjoyment of day to day living.

First and foremost, poor oral health can drive you away from your pet. Of course, no pet would like to be neglected and left alone due to their bad breath but owners will often not tolerate being close to them if this is the case.

Secondly, it can affect the amount of nutrition that they get as they become unable to chew their food efficiently. An aching tooth will definitely not be used effectively for tearing up and chewing their food or they can also choose to ignore eating altogether.

Thirdly, infection in the mouth can easily spread to other parts of the body and get deposited in the organs as they enter the bloodstream.

Veterinarian Examining Dog

The mouth is one of the areas which contain the largest amount of blood vessels in the body.  Any infection which gains access to these blood vessels will become distributed around the body and may get deposited in the heart, lungs, and kidneys.

Bacteria from periodontitis can cause the production of “sticky” proteins which can stick to the lining of the heart valve and the arteries. They also contribute to the formation of blood clots in the brain.  As you can see, neglecting your dog’s oral health can definitely bring about a lot of problems, not to mention that they can significantly shorten your dog’s life.

Oral care science

Just as there are various options for maintaining a healthy oral environment for humans so are there also available products for keeping your dog’s mouth healthy. It is never too late to care for your dog’s mouth especially if you really value them a lot and enjoy their companionship.

Arm and Hammer Advanced Care kit

Whether you have a half hour a day or a few minutes to contribute to your dog’s oral hygiene, there are a variety of products that you can use in order to promote their oral health. They come in varying prices so whether you have a lot to spend or can splurge in your dog’s dental care, you have that opportunity nonetheless.

  • Dog toothbrushes and toothpastes – These are definitely the best way to maintain your dog’s oral health. The direct application of mechanical means to dislodge any food particle and sticky saliva from your dog’s teeth will do wonders for their oral health. These toothbrushes also protect your hands from a sudden bite in case the dog experiences pain when you touch their gums or teeth.
    It is important to select the right size for your dog – there are small toothbrushes for smaller breeds and large ones for larger dogs. They also have a long handle so you can reach the back teeth easily. Dog toothpastes contain enzymes and no fluoride which is hazardous when swallowed. Take note that your dog will swallow the toothpaste and will not spit if you tell them to do so.
    Instead of buying blind, you can read our article on some of the best dog toothpastes to consider for your pooch.
  • Oral rinses, gels, and water additives – Due to the time constraints that some dog owners have, there are several companies that now produce oral gels and rinses for dogs that can be combined with their drinking water. Oral gels are applied directly to the dog’s teeth and are then spread in the mouth when the dog licks it.
    There are two different types of oral rinses: those that contain chemicals (usually chlorhexidine) and those that contain natural components such as fruit and vegetable ingredients. Both of these types work effectively in minimizing the amount of oral bacteria and the main difference is the “taste” of the rinse. Chlorhexidine has a bitter taste and some dogs will not drink water which is combined with this chemical.
  • Dental diet – This can vary from one dog to another and is therefore best recommended by a veterinarian. It can be composed of either a pre-packaged dog food that contains the necessary nutrients that they need to develop a healthy set of teeth and gums or they can be a prescribed set of foods that your vet thinks will contribute to their oral health.
    Some of the most commonly recommended natural foods that help with dog oral health are alkaline fruits and vegetables such as celery, apples, cucumber, cloves, and parsley. You can also give them raw animal bones and ligaments which will help remove any plaque or tartar from the teeth as the dog chews on them.
  • Dog dental prophylaxis – Due to the nature of the patient, the dog will often be subjected to general anesthesia when their teeth are being cleaned by a dental veterinarian. Take note that not all vets can provide this service and you need to seek a board-certified dental vet to get it.
    It is important to get blood and urine analysis before this can be done to lessen any risks that there may be in the procedure. With the dog under anesthesia, the vet can easily scale and apply the necessary cleaning methods on your dog’s teeth. This can also include the removal of loose and rotten teeth if the vet thinks that is cannot be saved.

Your dog’s oral health is just as important as the type of food and environment that you provide them in order to promote good overall health. According to studies, 85% of dogs who are 3 years of age already have periodontal disease and this is due to the very basic fact that owners do not oven think of their dog’s “oral health” at all.

If toothpaste isn’t your dog’s «thing,» you can also try one of the products from our article on the best dog teeth cleaning products you can find. They’re a good alternative for those dogs that don’t like toothpaste.

The percentage of owners who actually provide dental care for dogs is less than 5% of the total dog owners in the US today. That is quite a staggering number especially since this translates to millions of dogs each year getting dental problems that their owners may not notice.

Remember that dental problems can significantly shorten your dog’s life due to the improper or poor intake of food because of aching gums and to the infection of the various organs in the body as bacteria from infected gums gain access to the blood stream.

Dog ready for brushing teeth

The simple steps that you take today can prevent the development of these more serious conditions so it is important to start right now. It does not matter whether your dog is already an adult or is just a puppy. Oral conditions can be greatly improved if you understand the consequences of neglecting your dog’s oral health and just allowing them to care for their own. If you really value your dog’s health, then you should start by taking care of their mouth.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.