As with humans, the state of a dog’s oral hygiene impacts the rest of the body’s health. The mouth is a moist, warm environment that is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and its associated toxins.
While most of this process is natural and normal, when tartar and plaque begin to form, the microbial balance in the mouth is thrown off and health problems can ensue. The most commonly recognizable mouth diseases in dogs and people are gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (oral cavity disease), but these conditions only represent the beginning of a much larger and more dangerous process.
What impact does poor oral hygiene have on a dog’s health?
Recent studies have shown that without proper oral hygiene, the bacterial toxins in the mouth are absorbed into the bloodstream. This process means the toxins are filtered by the brain, liver, and kidneys to other areas of the body. Small infections occur and sometimes can result in fatal organ damage and failure.
Some veterinarians are of the mind that the toxins spread throughout the body cluster in bacterial colonies within critical organ tissues, such as the heart’s valves, the liver, and the kidneys.
These are the kinds of infections that your dog may suffer from due to poor oral hygiene.
Infected blood from a tooth abscess can easily travel throughout the body’s bloodstream and quickly impact vital organs such as:
The heart- This organ is susceptible to blood infections, and if an infection sets into the valves (called bacterial endocarditis), it can be fatal. The bacterial toxins can stick to the walls of the arteries over time. If proper dental care is not administered to your canine, these toxins build up along the artery walls, causing them to thicken. As it is more difficult for blood to pass through thick arterial walls, heart disease begins to occur.
The liver and pancreas- The bacterial toxins that originated in the mouth and spread through the blood can cause hepatitis of the liver as well as pancreatitis in the pancreas. Both conditions are lifelong and life-threatening.
The kidneys- A primary function of the kidneys is to filter out toxins from the blood and catch bacteria. However, if the bacteria and toxins are at a high level, the kidneys themselves can become infected. In many cases, proper dental care will reverse this type of infection.
The brain, lungs, and muscles- These vital organs are all susceptible to blood infections, making them prime targets if a dog has poor oral health.
Often, dogs with oral disease also have gastrointestinal issues. Dogs with poor dental health, particularly those with periodontitis, have bacteria in their saliva that will, with time, produce toxins. These toxins are ingested by the dog every time they swallow. Although the stomach’s gastric acid will destroy some of these toxins, it won’t eliminate all of them. The remaining toxins can infect the stomach, causing gastritis.
Aside from being ingested, the bacteria associated with periodontitis can also be inhaled. As the bacteria and its toxins grow, they are carried down the dog’s airways. Healthy dogs may have a strong enough immune system to attack and destroy the infection, but dogs with compromised health will have a harder time overcoming the disease. In particular, dogs who already have a respiratory illness, such as bronchitis, will be more likely to develop an infection. Bacterial infections that spread to the respiratory system can have a harmful impact on a dog.
Prevention is the key to your dog’s overall health
Poor oral hygiene can shave as much as three years off a dog’s estimated lifespan. Instead of waiting for your dog’s oral condition to deteriorate to the point where it impacts body organs and functions, veterinarians suggest that dog owners be proactive regarding their canine’s oral health.
Here are the steps you can take to help prevent the development of oral diseases in your dog.
#1. Feed your dog a proper diet.
Dogs should be fed a well-balanced, meat-based food. The meat in dog food is responsible for keeping a tidy, healthy environment within the dog’s mouth.
#2. Provide healthy chews for your dog.
Chew toys, or even rawhide chews, provide an exercise regimen for your dog’s teeth. Hard rubber or durable nylon chew toys can assist in keeping a dog’s mouth structure in order.
#3. Brush your dog’s teeth.
For tooth brushing to provide benefits for your dog, it must be done every day regardless of a dog’s diet. Use a canine appropriate toothbrush and toothpaste; there are many flavored kinds of toothpastes on the market now that are more appealing to dogs. Some toothpaste is also enzymatic, so if you can’t brush all of your dog’s teeth, the toothpaste enzymes will be spread around the entirety of the dog’s mouth anyway.
#4. See your vet.
Regular oral checkups and care can help prevent and identify potential risks.
Oral hygiene can affect what happens with your dog’s health, and in some cases, how many years your dog will live. Take care of your dog’s mouth so that infections, root canals, oral diseases, and tooth extractions can be avoided entirely. Oral infections that spread throughout the body can ultimately be prevented by a dog owner who is actively involved in their dog’s oral health.