Caring for Your Dog's Mouth: Tongue, Teeth, and All
A dog's mouth is much more than a woofer for various vocalizations -- it's actually a barometer of his overall well-being. Getting to know the basics of your dog's oral structure will help you keep your pup in the pink of health, so you can enjoy your time together longer. Whether your best friend is a puppy, an adult, or a senior, it's never too late to bone up. What you learn could extend and even save your dog's life.
"I've come to the conclusion, after many years of practice, that the mouth really is the window to a pet patient's general health status," says veterinarian Michelle Yasson of Holistic Veterinary Services in New York. "The dog's mouth is unique in that it's both internal and external, sensitive yet exposed to the environment."
With their mouths, dogs regulate their body temperature and express appetite, happy playfulness, even love for humans and other animals.
"When I see a dog with a beautiful, healthy mouth -- big, white teeth; pink, moist gums; and clear, watery saliva -- I get excited, because it means this patient has the potential to have a long, happy life," Yasson says. "A healthy mouth is the gateway to a healthier heart, liver, and immune system."
Sadly, she laments, "Ninety-five out of a hundred pets don't have healthy mouths."
Yet keeping a dog's mouth healthy isn't difficult -- and it's worth the effort, says Diane Levitan of Long Island's Peace Love Pets Veterinary Care.
To help dog lovers stay on top of their pets' oral health, Dr. Levitan lists these landmarks on the mutt mouth map. Practice identifying them in and around your dog's woofer, so you'll be prepared in case any changes arise:
This comprises all surfaces on the inside, from the roof of the mouth to the area under the tongue. Whether pink or -- in the case of certain breeds such as the blue-tongued Chow Chow -- pigmented, a healthy mucosa is always smooth, moist, and glistening.
"It should be intact -- there shouldn't be any bumps or irregularities or bloody areas on it, as these could be signs of systemic internal disease," Levitan says. "If the mucosa is dry or tacky, something's wrong; bad breath, for instance, doesn't always spell dental disease, it could mean the pet has diabetes."
Because your dog uses his tongue in so many ways -- not just to taste food, but to drink, pick up and investigate things, clean himself, and show affection -- be familiar with what it looks like when it's healthy and everything is normal, Levitan advises: "That way, if you notice any changes, you'll be ready to alert your dog's vet and help with a diagnosis."
A dog's tongue has tastebuds on its surface, just as ours do, and the 'buds are smaller in the front and bigger in back. "There shouldn't be any divots or raw erosions anywhere on the tongue," she adds.
"With all of a dog's teeth, you want to make sure there isn't excessive tartar; that the gums around the teeth are not excessively red; and that there are no broken teeth," Levitan says. Know the difference between worn and broken teeth; broken teeth are traumatic and can show up at any life stage. Normally it takes a while, but dogs as young as two can have worn teeth if they chew, say, rocks.
"Check the alignment of the teeth, that they line up properly so the dog has a good bite," Levitan adds. "Make sure the dog doesn't have any puppy teeth, or deciduous teeth, that never came out; these need to be extracted or they can cause local tooth decay. Recognize the different types of teeth: The fangs (canines), used for catching and holding things; the razor-sharp carnasial teeth on the side, which are used to tear apart their food; and the molars at the back, used for grinding."
Incidentally, when gnawing at bones and chew toys, dogs use their molars as well as their carnasial teeth.
The Jaw Muscle
This important oral component stretches all the way around to the top of a dog's head and controls the jaw bone. "Make sure the jaw muscle doesn't appear sunken, and that your dog has no trouble opening and closing his mouth," Levitan says. Check this by opening his mouth yourself; if there's difficulty with jaw function, it could be a sign of disease elsewhere in the body, such as an inflammatory problem.
Another way to troubleshoot the jaw muscle: "Look at your dog's face to make sure it's symmetrical and there's no swelling, which could indicate a tooth root abscess."
If you notice any abnormalities in or around your dog's mouth, or any change in his ability to eat or otherwise use his oral equipment, consult your veterinarian without delay.
This post was sponsored by DENTASTIX® Daily Oral Care