What causes oral health problems in dogs?
The most common offender concerning oral health in dogs is gum disease, and one of the most frequent causes of bad breath in dogs.
After eating, leftover morsels of food mix with saliva and bacteria and coat the surfaces of the teeth, forming a sticky layer known as plaque. If not removed, this mixes with minerals found in saliva and hardens around the tooth as tartar, the brown-yellow hard coating often seen when owners realise ‘my dog has bad breath’ and look in their mouth. This gives an ideal surface for more plaque to stick to, and so the problem worsens. The gums are irritated and prone to bleeding, becoming pushed away from the teeth. This exposes more space for bacteria to attack, again making the problem worse. This first stage of periodontal disease is gingivitis, and the condition is reversible at this stage.
The next stage is periodontitis, and this is when it becomes irreversible. Tooth cavities can form, both above and below the gum line. The gums erode and their tissue is destroyed. Teeth become loose and may fall out as the bone of the sockets holding them disappears. Pockets of pus may form, and abscesses around tooth roots and breath are likely to be foul. This is very painful for the dog. Dogs are very stoic and many will keep eating for as long as they can manage, but a reluctance to eat due to pain can lead to weight loss if not tackled.
Breed has an effect on the chances of developing gum disease. Smaller dogs and brachycephalic, flat-faced breeds are more prone to problems. This is due to a higher chance of overcrowding of teeth in the jaw. They also are more likely to not shed puppy teeth properly, or have extra teeth present. This means more areas for plaque to build up and cause problems, and cleaning the teeth effectively is more difficult. Brachycephalic dogs frequently breathe through their mouths, drying out and irritating oral tissues.
Other causes of problems are injuries from chewing unsuitable items such as stones or sticks. These can result in injuries to the gums, tongue or palate, and cracked or broken teeth.
If you find a lump in the mouth combined with dog bad breath cancer is a potential cause. Oral tumours are fast-growing, and the lack of sufficient blood supply means that bad breath often occurs with these tumours.