Dog Dental Care: Judging A Mouth By Its Cover—There Is More To Dental Health Than Meets The Eye

Clean-looking teeth equal a healthy dog. True or false?

Yes, it is a trick question. Healthy teeth, or rather a healthy mouth, equals a healthy dog. But how do you know whether your dog’s mouth is healthy?

Dog Dental Care: Judging A Mouth By Its Cover—There Is More To Dental Health Than Meets The Eye

Obvious signs of dental disease

There are some obvious signs that there is a problem with the mouth, such as:

  • bad breath
  • discolored, loose, broken or missing teeth
  • excessive drooling
  • red, swollen gums that bleed easily
  • sensitive, painful mouth
  • reluctance to eat or chew
  • pawing at the mouth
  • aggression or depression
  • abnormal discharge from tooth, nose or eyes
  • digestive upsets…

No apparent or visible signs

But what if your dog’s teeth look perfectly fine?

If they LOOK fine, and nothing seems to be going on with them, they ARE fine, aren’t they?

The real dental problems go on where the eye cannot see them.

Dog Dental Care: Judging A Mouth By Its Cover—There Is More To Dental Health Than Meets The Eye

JD’s story

JD’s mouth looked fine. At his last wellness exam earlier this month, his mouth was graded 1 out of 4 with the recommendation for prophylactic cleaning and evaluation.

It was only expected that he was going in to get his teeth cleaned and checked.

We booked an appointment and JD went in last week. And then, a surprise. A thorough examination, which would not really be possible with JD awake, and the x-rays revealed that he had one tooth in the back that was broken, one tooth was loose, and two that had deep periodontal pockets of infection between them and the big adjacent teeth.

It was only expected that he was going in to get his teeth cleaned and checked.

Three tooth extractions

JD came back home three teeth short.

Did I mention that his mouth looked perfectly fine? Before the x-rays, JD’s mouth was graded 1 out of 4. After the x-rays, 3+ out of 4.

There is more to dental health than meets the eye

The importance of dental x-rays

Unless you have an x-ray vision, you need an actual x-ray to know for sure what condition your dog’s mouth really is in.

That is certainly one good reason not to skimp on regular wellness exams. It is one good reason not to decline dental work if your vet recommends one. It is also one good reason to think twice about anesthesia-free dental cleaning. Because dental disease only snowballs.

See no evil

Just because the teeth seem to look good, doesn’t mean they are good.

Jasmine’s teeth, on the other hand, didn’t LOOK so great but were holding up. Even after they rapidly declined from the steroids, and there were a number of signs that led us to believe the mouth had some serious problems, a close look and x-rays revealed minor issues only. And, unfortunately, nothing that would explain the symptoms we were seeing.

Although discolored teeth and foul breath are upsetting, the real problem is the infection around the teeth. 

When the germs escape into the bloodstream, they can affect distant organs like the lungs, heart, liver, kidney, joints, and bones and cause physical damage to the organs.

The other bad and maybe worse problem is the resulting chronic inflammation. Inflammation releases mediators that damage cells and organs in the body distant to the primary site. These mediators can trigger premature cell death (premature aging), failure of heart valves or changes in cellular genetic material (cancer). This is why oral health is important.

Now, there is the new product out there, OraStrip QuickCheck to detect periodontal disease. Dr. Marty Becker seems impressed by it.

Our vet hasn’t tried it yet but maybe it can be a good tool in seeing what the eyes cannot.

How do your dog’s teeth look? When was the last time they were seen through x-ray? Is your vet using the OraStrip QuickCheck?

Related articles:
When Bad Breath Can Kill!

Categories: Dental careDental diseaseOral care

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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