Senior Dogs and Dental Health
Caring for a senior dog is one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever experienced. I feel so bonded with my senior dog, but at the same time the health problems older dogs face are a cause for concern and stress.
I always want to do everything I can for my senior dog. One of the areas that I know I can help him in is by taking care of his dental health. When my older dog began losing his teeth, I knew I had to learn more about this problem.
In order to help you care for your older dog’s dental health too, we’ve compiled an all you need to know guide about oral care for senior dogs, especially when they’re losing teeth.
Dog Tooth Chart
In adulthood, dogs have a total of 42 teeth, 22 on the top jaw and 20 on the bottom. They have incisor, canine, premolar and molar type teeth, all which perform a different job.
Incisors, the front teeth, are used for scraping and removing teeth from bones, and for grooming to nibble at ticks and fleas. Canines, the long pointed teeth, are used for tearing food such as meat apart, or for carrying bones or chew toys. Premolars are behind the canines, and they’re used for chewing and shredding food. Finally, molars are used to break down any hard foods your dog may be chewing.
Do Dogs Lose Their Teeth When They’re Young?
Much like humans, dogs lose their baby teeth and grow adult teeth in their early years. At 3-6 weeks old, your dog’s deciduous (baby) teeth will grow in. He keeps this set of 28 tiny teeth until around 12 weeks old, when they start to naturally fall as the puppy grows. This process usually finishes at about 6 months old.
The period in which the deciduous teeth are falling and the adult teeth are growing in is the teething stage. This is a particularly painful stage, both for the puppies and their human counterparts. Your puppy’s gums will be very sore at this stage, and you may be able to notice spots of blood from his mouth around the house. It is also possible to find baby teeth on the floor, but most of the time they are swallowed by your pup.
In this stage, you can help your pup (and your family members) by providing them with something to chew on, to help relieve the pain. If you don’t, they might resort to nipping at your feet and ankles!
The best chew toys for your teething dog would be rubber toys that you can put in the freezer to make cold. The cold will help relieve pain in your puppy’s gums, and the rubber is hard enough to be satisfying when he chews, but soft enough not to hurt his teeth. For young puppies, wetting a washcloth, putting it to freeze, and then giving it to your dog to chew can also help.
Tooth Loss in Older Dogs
Like humans, older dogs can sometimes lose their teeth. Also like humans, this does not occur naturally, but results from other causes like dental disease or breakage. It is not a part of your dog’s natural tooth cycle to lose his adult teeth, so it is avoidable with the proper care.
Read on to understand reasons why your dog’s teeth may fall out as he ages, and how you can prevent this from happening.
Most older dog’s suffering from tooth loss are suffering from periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is a fancy name for gum disease.
Gum disease occurs in the plaque surrounding a dog’s tooth. When bacteria, from food, foreign objects, dust, or the dog’s environment, gets in the plaque. The body recognizes the plaque as foreign, and sends white blood cells to combat it. As a counter attack, the bacteria sends signals to the white blood cells to take down the gums.
The ensuing battle results in one thing: damage to your dog’s teeth. Symptoms of periodontal disease include inflamed gums, bone loss, and tissue loss, which all lead to your dog’s teeth falling out.
The unfortunate thing about dental disease in dogs is that the symptoms are not severe, and often don’t present until the disease has moved quite far along. You’re rarely sticking your head in your dog’s mouth to see what’s going on in there!
Some things to keep an eye out for to catch this disease before it gets too far along are trouble eating, blood on toys or in the water bowl, bad breath, loose teeth, bumps on lumps in the mouth, the dog avoiding his head being touched, sneezing, and strange chewing habits.
The most important thing you can do to catch dental disease early in your dog is keep up with regular vet checkups. Your vet will be able to properly examine your dog and watch out for this sneaky disease.
Another, though less common, reason for tooth loss in dogs is breakage unrelated to periodontal disease. Teeth weaken as they get older, and are more likely to break. If your dog has a fracture in his tooth and it is left untreated, the whole tooth or part of the tooth may rot and fall off.
Fractures occur from outward trauma (like a hit to the head), but more commonly in older dogs when they bite too roughly on hard objects such as bones or some chew toys. Fractures are painful, and can lead to other complications beyond tooth loss, including infection.
The Effects of Tooth Loss
A dog with missing or fractured teeth is not just in trouble for his appearance- most fractured or missing teeth will cause your dog a lot of pain. Fractured teeth can be treated with root canal therapy, vital pulp therapy, or removal. For missing teeth, antibiotics, root planing, or a root canal may be necessary.
Oral Care for a Senior Dog
Oral care in dogs should start from a young age. But if you haven’t kept up with your dog’s teeth until his senior years, there are still steps you can take to mitigate the damage caused by periodontal disease and breakage, and prevent tooth loss.
First, as mentioned above, make sure you take your senior dog for regular check ups, and make sure the vet includes his oral health in their examination of him. You can even go further to have your dog undergo a full dental exam under general anaesthesia, to make sure there are no underlying problems a vet can’t see.
Training your dog to let you brush his teeth is important too. Dog’s teeth should ideally be brushed daily, or at least a few times a week. The processo can be daunting, but you can work with Rover to get him comfortable with it. Work on desensitizing your dog to the routine, with lots of positive reinforcement.
Another good way to ensure your dog’s teeth stay healthy, especially in his old age, is by keeping an eye on what you feed him. Dental diets, which help clean dogs’ teeth as they eat, exist on the market and may be recommended by your vet.
Finally, ensuring your dog is playing only with safe bones and chew toys is of utmost importance. Rubbery toys and thin rawhides are best for your dog’s sensitive teeth. Avoid anything too hard or which may splinter when chewed.
I know firsthand how alarming tooth loss and fracture can be in your senior dog. But by understanding the structure of your dog’s teeth, the reasons for tooth loss, and ways you can prevent the loss from happening, you can take a positive step in caring for your dog and keeping him happy.
We hope you enjoyed the article, and let us know in the comments below if you have any more questions on tooth loss in older dogs. We’ll be sure to answer you as best we can!