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Teeth and Gums

Give a Dog a Bone. While most people would frown on this practice or even strongly discourage it, this is something we often do for our dogs, give them a bone. A cow femur bone in the raw stage (not cooked) is best. While chewing, he will roll it about on all the teeth that do the chewing, thus cleaning them naturally.

There are many "treats" such as beef or pork bones sold in stores for pet consumption but be warned that these products are fully cooked as stated on the packaging and are NOT what we are recommending. They may be 100% natural but since they are fully processed, they can and do splinter and can cause your dog a great deal of pain if ingested as would any cooked bone. Never give your dog turkey bones, even if raw and certainly never cooked!

What to do if your dog eats bones

What COOKED bones sold for dogs may look like.

NEVER offer your dog cooked bones, only raw  

Raw bones create a constant gnawing and salivating which not only cleans the teeth but removes the debris by means of drooling. All of our dogs have healthy teeth and gums as a result of gnawing on raw bones and have never once had to have their teeth cleaned. "In dogs, the teeth are less likely than humans to form dental caries because of the very high pH of dog saliva, which prevents enamel from demineralizing." (Chris C. Pinney D.V.M.)

Be sure your dog is never left alone when chewing on anything in case a small part breaks off and you need to quickly remove it from it's mouth. And never leave a chew toy with him while crated for long periods of time. He may get bored and while destroying his toy, a portion of it could become lodged in his airway. Once while passing by a rather large dog tied up in his yard and jumping about, we noticed he was continuously pawing  at his mouth. He allowed us to invistigate and it turned out he had an old chicken bone caught on his back molar, so old in fact that it was green with decay. Once removed, we did speak with the owner. We cannot stress enough the importance of being present when your dog is chewing any object!

Of our four dogs, only one ever seems to have an issue when eating raw bones and he will vomit up very small fragments (usually about the time one reaches REM sleep). So now, after giving him a raw bone, we follow up directly after with the cotton ball remedy . No more early morning retching and he has good teeth!

Teeth and Age: The Merck Veterinary Manual lists some suggestions for aging dogs by their teeth but this is not always indicative of the dog's age and in many cases can be totally off as there are now more puppy mills than ever before and in this environment of low to no nutritional value, their teeth age quickly. A dog's diet plays an important role in keeping his teeth healthy.

Dogs in the wild are carnivores and have teeth consistent with their meat-eating history. Domesticated dogs, of course, have been turned into omnivores, as most dry dog foods contain substantial amounts of plant material. Our pets do not use their teeth to chew food as do humans but rather tear their food as do their cousins in the wild.

The exact number of teeth can vary. Puppies have 28 deciduous (temporary) teeth, which erupt at 3-8 weeks of age (14 upper and 14 lower) while adult dogs have 42 permanent teeth, which erupt at 12-26 weeks of age (20 upper and 22 lower).

Before you go poking around in your dogs mouth, try to pick a time when he is relaxed, say, after a good meal when he may roll over on his back for a tummy rub. If you can get him in a relaxed position, then most likely he will not mind you having a look.

Examine his four front teeth, both in the upper and lower jaws, but mainly the teeth in the upper jaw. It's that row of small teeth between the long canines. Your dog will have a very visible mark in his teeth which will not disappear completely until he is nearly six years old.

If his teeth are jagged or uneven, almost heart-shaped at the top, he should be about 12 months old. The teeth will be white and clean. As you dog ages, the teeth will lose their heart shape and become more even and smoother in appearance.

Now look at front four teeth for half worn down marks. Not completely jagged, but not completely smooth either. Look also for increased tartar build-up around all teeth. At this stage, he will be three to four years old.

As you examine the four front teeth, both in the upper and lower jaws and you note all teeth are worn smooth but still not even and not at the least jagged, your dog may be around six years old. When these teeth are worn fairly flat and all are even, your dog is most likely nearing ten years of age.

Look for heavy tartar build-up and missing teeth and your dog's age will be around ten to fifteen years.

What to look for:

  • Red or swollen gums
  • Tartar buildup or stains
  • Cracked teeth

Always check for medical problems first! If your dog has a clean bill of health, chlorophyll tablets are easy to give and will eliminate not only doggy breath but that not-so-sweet smell they may have after lying in the sun and neutralize urine odors. Chlorophyll is a mineral rich supplement which has been suggested to assist in tissue repair, purifies the blood, help the liver build red blood cells, natural internal deodorizer and tissue healer. Depending on the dog's weight, give the same dosage as you would a child. If it is a very small dog, give 1/2 or even 1/4 the amount given a large dog.  

Healthy Teeth & Gums- Signs of a Healthy Dog
Taken in part from Urban Hound

Q: My dog has terrible breath. Is there anything I can do?
A: The first thing to do is find out what's causing your hound's foul breath. The most likely source is dental disease, but unruly face hair, diabetes, and kidney disease are also possibilities.

Dental disease. This is the most common cause of bad breath. In dogs, as in people, bits of food and bacteria form plaque on the teeth that eventually hardens into tartar. Tartar irritates the gums, which leads to gum disease and bad breath. Dogs’ teeth age and have varying quality which affects how well their bites hold up over time. Like some people, individual dogs are genetically predisposed to dental disease. Symptoms of periodontal disease include: red and swollen gums, foul breath, tartar build-up on teeth, discoloration of teeth, poor appetite and painful chewing.

To inspect your dogs teeth (assuming she doesn't snap or bite), gently push up her upper lip, one side at a time, and look along the gum line. Check the base of the upper fang teeth (canines) and the first large teeth in the back (the upper fourth premolars, or carnassials teeth).

Do you see yellowish, brownish, or grayish gunk (tartar) on the teeth? Do the gums look sore? Are there sores on the insides of the lips? All of these are signs of dental disease. Does your dog also have yellowish or whitish discharge from her nose? A tooth-root abscess may be the cause. The roots of the upper canine teeth are close to a dogs nasal passages, so an infected canine tooth may cause a discharge from the nose. Also, abscesses of the upper molars can sometimes cause a swelling or draining wound just below the dogs eye.

If you see signs of dental disease, take your dog to the vet. Once tartar has hardened, it's almost impossible to get rid of it at home. A vet uses the same instruments as a (human) dental hygienist to remove a dogs tartar deposits. As well, your vet will remove any loose teeth and check for growths, infections, and other problems.

Once your dog's teeth have been cleaned, you should start brushing them every day. If you focus on the four teeth that accumulate the most tartar (the upper canines and the upper fourth premolars, as described above), it takes less than two minutes to brush a dogs teeth. Be sure to use dog toothpaste--human toothpaste can upset your dog's stomach. If brushing is impossible, there are several antibacterial mouth sprays for dogs--ask your vet whether a spray would be helpful for your dog. Another option is T/D, a prescription dry dog food that scrapes the sides of the dogs teeth as she eats. Chew toys may help somewhat, but they are no substitute for brushing and they don't work nearly as well as T/D.

Unruly face hair. Dogs with long or curly hair will often get food and saliva matted in the hair around their mouths. Sometimes the hair will even wrap around their teeth and cut into their gums. Keeping the hair around their mouths neatly trimmed and clean will make them smell and feel better and will help prevent them from getting skin infections.

Diabetes or kidney disease. Non-dental causes of bad breath are less common, but they do exist. The breath of diabetic dogs can smell like acetone nail-polish remover. Dogs with diseased kidneys may have sour, urine-smelling breath. If you suspect either of these problems, schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. While you are sniffing around, lift your dogs ears and take a whiff of each (if you can do so safely, of course). Occasionally a dog owner will mistake a really foul-smelling ear infection for bad breath.

Dog shreds toilet paper

Q: My dog is a 12 year old Lakeland Terrier. His appetite is normal. However he has begun to shred the toilet paper off of the roll and eating it and he has also gotten into a new bag of cotton balls and ate them. Any idea as to why he may be doing this all of a sudden? 

A: Is he shredding other things such as pillows or paper towels? Will he eat hard food or does he prefer soft? The older a dog gets, the more their teeth need to be protected from hard objects such as Nylabones or other plastic play toys. You may want to have a good look at his teeth and gums to be certain there is no inflammation or foreign object embedded there.
He may be experiencing some pain in his mouth which has not yet been detected. The soft objects would offer a type of cushioning while he goes about the normal routine of exercising his jaws by chewing. Please do a thorough examination of his mouth or have your vet do so at the first opportunity to rule out any problem.

Follow up:

Thank you for the response.  It turned out that you were right.  He did have a sore mouth.  It has now been taken care of and his toilet paper/cotton ball chewing days seem to be over.  Thank you so much!