If your dog has bad breath, it can be tough to tell if anything is actually wrong. After all, it’s normal for dogs to have “dog breath.”
Does your dog need to see the vet, or is she just being her stinky, slobbery self?
Fortunately, bad breath isn’t the only symptom of canine tooth decay. Here are some other ways to tell whether your dog needs medical attention. We’ll also provide a few helpful tips for preventative care and aftercare.
Dog Tooth Decay Symptoms
So, what symptoms should you be watching out for? Here’s a list of the main symptoms of canine tooth decay.
Visible cavities: This is the most obvious sign that there’s an actual medical problem. If you see dark spots or holes in your dog’s teeth, take them to the vet and get them looked at as soon as possible.
Tartar/plaque: Tartar is a mineral buildup on the teeth that is typically yellow, orange, or brown in color. When it’s allowed to build up, it can form a coating called plaque. Tartar and plaque harbor bacteria, which can eat away at the tooth enamel and form a cavity.
Brown or yellow teeth: Brown or yellow teeth are a sign that tartar is building up. If you’re not sure, look along the gum line. This is where it typically begins.
Increased sneezing: In severe cases of periodontitis, the infection can eat away at the bone between the nose and the mouth. This causes increased mucus production, which leads to sneezing.
Gingivitis: Gingivitis is a gum infection that causes the dog’s gums to become red and swollen. You’ll often see plaque, an orange or yellow buildup, at the base of the teeth. This may or may not mean your dog has a cavity, but it does mean they should see the vet.
Periodontitis: In severe cases, gingivitis can cause the gums to pull away from the teeth, a condition called periodontitis. In this condition, pockets in the gum can bleed or fill with pus. If your dog’s mouth is bleeding, he may have periodontitis, and needs veterinary attention.
Excessive drooling: There’s no set rule as to how much a dog should drool, but you know your dog. If she’s drooling much more than usual, it could indicate a dental problem.
Blood on toys or dishes: If you find blood or bloody drool on toys or in dishes, his mouth is probably bleeding. It’s time for a visit to the vet!
Bad breath: Yes, we’re back to bad breath! Bad breath can be caused by odors from an infection. This can be either an infection of the gum or of the tooth. Alternatively, it might just be a sign of poor dental hygiene.
Red Herring Symptoms
With all of these symptoms to look out for, it might feel like every dog has some kind of dental problem. Thankfully, there are a couple of very common “symptoms” that are actually generally nothing to worry about.
Black gums: Black is a perfectly ordinary color for dog gums. If your dog has black gums and no other symptoms, there’s nothing to worry about. In fact, some breeds, such as Chows, are actually prized for their black gums! Unless there’s bleeding, foul odor, or some other reason to worry, your dog is usually just fine.
Snaggleteeth: Some dogs have a snaggletooth, which means that the tooth is protruding from their mouth. Snaggleteeth don’t always need to be pulled, but they do need extra attention. If your dog has a snaggletooth, you’ll likely need to pay extra attention to it and brush it regularly. You should talk to your dentist to get proper medical advice, but there’s no need to panic.
Don’t wait for visible pain.
If your human child is in dental distress, chances are good that they’ll let you know. If they’re an infant, they’ll cry incessantly. If they’re an older child, they’ll complain about mouth or jaw pain.
You’d think your puppy-child would complain, too, but you’d be wrong.
As a matter of fact, dogs have evolved to hide signs of chronic pain. In nature, life is hard, and it’s much harder if everyone else knows your weaknesses.
According to Scott Beckman, a dental veterinarian: “In my experience the No. 1 sign of periodontal disease is no signs at all. The number of patients I see a year that come in because there is pain is less than 5%. “ He adds that over 80% of dogs develop periodontal disease before the age of 3.
In other words, your dog may act happy. She may wag her tail when you get home from work and chase her ball when you throw it, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t in pain. If you're worried that your dog may have a dental problem, look for the symptoms above instead.
How can I care for my dog’s teeth?
Canine dental care isn’t just a matter of treating cavities. It’s a matter of ongoing preventative maintenance.
Think about it. You don’t just neglect your teeth, waiting until you have a horrible cavity to visit the dentist. You brush your teeth. If you’re following your dentist’s advice, you’re probably brushing twice a day, and flossing everyday, too. So why would you completely neglect your dog’s mouth?
Regular canine hygiene is similar to human hygiene. This starts by making sure your dog eats a healthy diet. If you eat only M&Ms and pizza, you’re probably going to get a cavity. Similarly, make sure your dog is eating some dry food or chewy treats that scrubs their teeth. If you need a recommendation, talk to your vet.
It’s also a good idea to brush your dog’s teeth. However, fluoride toothpaste can be toxic to dogs. You have to use a toothpaste that’s developed specifically for dogs.
There are also cleaning sprays available, such as the all-natural pet oral care spray from Dr. Brite. It’s environmentally friendly, it’s made specifically for dogs, and it’s as easy as opening your dogs mouth and spritzing in the all natural, pet-specific formula for better canine hygiene.
How should I brush my dog’s teeth?
We actually don’t recommend you brush your dog’s teeth in the traditional sense because the bristles are often too hard for your pup and can actually cause gums to recede and may also stir up some inflammation.
A better alternative to a brush is our all-natural cleaning pen, made with soft silicone bristles that are gentle and effective. This will clean your dog’s teeth and gum line without causing any discomfort. It’s designed to be as delicious as possible, so you won’t have any trouble getting your dog to open up and say “Aaaah.”
If your dog is hesitant, start by getting them used to the pen itself.
During this phase, it’s important to work on a regular schedule. This will make your dog anticipate her next cleaning treat.
Next, it’s time to get them used to cleaning their teeth. Lift your dog’s teeth gently to reveal the gums, and apply the gel from the top rears to the bottom fronts. Focus on the outside of the teeth near the gum line, since this is where most tartar collects.
If your dog is showing any of the dental symptoms we mentioned, you should schedule a vet visit immediately. On the other hand, bad breath and black gums are generally nothing to be concerned about in and of themselves, but as always, if something is worrying you, give your vet a call for advice.
In addition, it’s important to take your dog in for regular checkups. It’s also important to feed your dog a healthy diet and brush their teeth regularly.
Just as with human dental hygiene, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care!