Because periodontal disease is so common in older dogs, caring owners should check their dogs’ mouths regularly for signs of tartar buildup, gingivitis and tooth decay. They should also monitor them for bad breath, bleeding gums, blood in their mouths, loose teeth, shrinking gums, and a reluctance to chew or eat. Even one of these issues merits a prompt visit to the vet.
Many times, dental disease in older dogs can not only cause pain but it can also lead to infections in the gum tissue. If your dog is in extreme pain, your vet may prescribe a medication to help ease it. But if your dog has a gum infection, broken or decayed teeth, your vet may medicate him to get rid of the infection, then extract the affected teeth. This helps protect his health since infections from gums and decaying teeth can spread throughout his body, causing problems with his organs, and a dog can easily live with missing or no teeth.
When a dog is older, the challenge of treating dental disease escalates and many owners are fearful of the risks associated with anesthesia. However, with proper testing such as blood work, x-rays and ultrasound, and barring any mitigating medical conditions, most senior dogs can, in fact, safely undergo the surgery.
To err on the side of caution, however, it’s best to bring your dog to the vet twice a year for a thorough oral examination. During these checkups, your vet will not only examine the state of your dog’s teeth but also detect problems you yourself can’t see through the use of x-rays and other imaging tests.
And yet, if an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure, helping to prevent or at least manage dental disease in your aging dog should be your primary concern.
Begin by brushing your dog’s teeth regularly – the younger he is the better. Buy either an actual doggy toothbrush or a finger brush. You can also use a child’s soft toothbrush or your finger. Buy specially designed dog toothpaste as well. Never use human toothpaste since the fluoride can be toxic, and avoid using baking soda because dogs shouldn’t swallow it. Brushing your dog’s teeth should take about a minute and you should concentrate on the outer surfaces of his teeth.
Feed your dog specifically labeled “dental food” which is designed to promote good dental hygiene by cleaning his teeth, preventing plaque buildup and helping remove plaque. Always speak with your vet beforehand to ensure the dental formula is appropriate for your dog’s age and beneficial to his overall health. And make certain your dog will be able to chew the new food.
Chew toys can aid in keeping your dog’s teeth clean, but because many older dogs don’t like to chew as much as they once did, they may not chew enough to make enough of a difference. Try giving him dental treats instead which can help rub off some of the plaque on his teeth and put a powdered or liquid oral care additive in his water bowl – at the very least, it will help freshen his breath.
For best results, however, it’s advisable to first have your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned by your vet, then use these products to help keep new plaque from forming.