The Importance of Good Dental Care in a Bichon

by Anne Jones RN, BSNE

Did you know that your beautiful Bichon may start to lose its teeth by age seven? Veterinarians consider poor dental care to be the number one health problem for dogs. This is particularly true for Bichons, with only allergies being as likely to require a visit to the veterinarian. It is important to give good dental care, beginning while the Bichon is young. By starting to care for the teeth early, the puppy will accept the attention that is so vital to his overall health.

Problems that may show up early in pups are improper bites and retained teeth. A ‘bad bite’ refers to the lower jaw jutting too far forward (called undershot) or, rarely, the upper jaw being too long (called overshot). Retaining puppy teeth can cause the permanent teeth to be out of proper alignment. The teeth most likely not to be shed normally are the canines but any time there are two teeth in one spot, the veterinarian should remove the puppy tooth to allow the permanent tooth to come in. However it is the loss of permanent teeth that we need to address now.

What causes this early tooth loss? There are sometimes genetic factors that can cause one dog to keep all it’s teeth until it dies of old age and another to have them fall out too early. The chemistry of one dog’s saliva may be different from another dog’s saliva. A shallow jaw will mean the teeth have less bone to hold them in place. These are some of the factors you cannot change. But you can do a lot to help your dog to have a healthy mouth.

Once the permanent teeth come in, a routine for dental care should be established. This will include both professional cleaning and brushing at home. Scaling the teeth can even be done at home but every dog should have at least one professional scaling and polishing a year at the veterinary clinic.

Why is it so important to clean the teeth? Dogs have some of the same dental problems as humans. While dental cavities do not happen as often in dogs, gingivitis is a common event. Gingivitis is the name for any inflammation of the gums.

What causes gingivitis? Plaque is the scum that forms on teeth from food and it contains germs along with the soft food particles. When plaque is not removed from the teeth, it hardens into calculus, also called tartar. This tartar is created when the soft plaque mineralizes into a hard coating and this change takes place within a couple of days. Needless to say, keeping the teeth clean is the only way to prevent it. Once the hardened calculus (tartar) forms, it irritates the gums, causing the inflammation called gingivitis.

Why is gingivitis dangerous? The tartar that is not removed continues to irritate the gums until they begin to pull away from the teeth. Pockets form along the gum line and these can allow the bacteria, or germs, to multiply rapidly. It is when these bacteria get into the dog’s bloodstream that they become even more dangerous to your pet. The germs may eventually settle in another part of the body, such as attaching to a heart valve, or settling within the liver or kidneys to cause a potentially fatal infection.

What can you do to keep your dog’s teeth clean? Fortunately there are dental care products available today that are specifically designed for dogs. Do not use human toothpaste for your pet. You can find these toothpastes and toothbrushes at your veterinary clinic or buy from vendors of pet products. Daily brushing, without the paste, will help but the toothpaste also contains enzymes to dissolve the plaque before it hardens into calculus. You should apply the toothpaste at least twice a week for it to be effective.

What else can you do? Feed your pet dry kibble and avoid wet foods that will adhere to teeth as well as disturb the balance of the diet. A quality dry food will provide your dog with a nutritional diet that has been scientifically prepared for him and it will be a great aid in keeping down plaque. Be sure that he has plenty of fresh water at all times, of course.

There are a lot of toys on the market today that are designed to massage the dog’s gums as well as provide entertainment. Alternate these with an occasional rawhide chew but these chews should be only of good quality as some of them contain products that are harmful to a dog’s health. Rope toys help to clean the teeth but a dog with loose teeth may further aggravate the situation by chewing on nylon bones. Of course he needs veterinary checkups to determine the condition of the teeth and gums but you can observe their condition in between visits to the vet.

What should you watch for? Bad breath may be the first sign of gingivitis. Examine the mouth frequently and watch for red gums, which may also be swollen. Brown or yellow crust on the teeth is tartar and bleeding of the gums is a sure sign of gingivitis. Also watch for any growths in the mouth; these need to be checked by a veterinarian, as do any broken or loose teeth. Bad breath can also be a sign of some other serious diseases, such as cancer and kidney disease, making it even more important to have a health examination for your pet.

To review:

1. Start early to examine and clean the dog’s teeth so he becomes accustomed to it.
2. Brush daily to remove food particles and germs.
3. Use a canine toothbrush and toothpaste to control formation of tartar.
4. Take him to the vet at the sign of any changes in the healthy gum tissue.
5. Have an annual dental examination and cleaning in addition to the care you give at home.

By following these simple procedures, you are helping your pet to a better and longer life. He will greatly appreciate it and he deserves it!