Bad breath, or halitosis, is very common in dogs and cats; however, there are a wide range of possible causes. Some are simple to treat; others less so – but bad breath is almost always symptoms of an underlying problem.
Question from Mary Collins O’Hara:
I have an 8year old Maltipoo who has had teeth and gum problem for the last 4years. He had 8teeth pulled, including some teeth on the bottom front, so now he drools all the time and he has the worst breath. I have done several rounds of antibiotics, I brush his teeth but his gums are so tender, he cries. I don't know what else to do. Please help.
Answer by Shanika Winters
Hi Mary and thank you for your question regarding your dog’s ongoing mouth problem. An adult dog usually has 42 teeth which are made up of four different types:
12 Incisors which are for nibbling
4 Canines which are for grabbing and puncturing
16 Premolars which are for cutting and shearing
10 Molars which in theory are for grinding up food
Most dogs over the age of 3 years have some form of dental disease, this may be as mild as inflamed gums (gingivitis) and plaque through to infected tooth roots with gum recession. Along with the functions listed above the teeth help hold the dogs tongue inside its mouth and keep the shape of its mouth by holding the cheek flaps out. Many dogs cope extremely well after major extractions where they are only left with a few healthy teeth.
The diet may need to be changed so as to make it easier for the dog to eat it, in some cases wet food may be advised. Generally however we recommend some dry food is fed as this helps to keep plaque levels down just by the fact that the food is crunched and scrapes on the surface of the teeth. There are specially designed dental diets which have fibres in each nugget arranged so as to have maximum scraping effect on the teeth. As most dog owners are aware not all dogs crunch up their food it is wolfed down rather fast and in such cases dental diets may have little effect on keeping the teeth clean.
You have already mentioned that you are brushing your dog’s teeth, that is an excellent way to keep them clean by slowing down the build up of plaque. It is important to use tooth paste that is designed for dogs, which is both palatable to them and not high in fluoride as are human toothpastes. It is also advisable to use specially designed dog tooth brushes, these tend to have a smaller head with a longer handle so it is easier to reach all around the dog’s mouth. Only light pressure should be applied when cleaning your dog’s teeth, it is easy to be too firm and hurt the gums.
Antibiotics are often used in cases of dental disease to reduce the presence of bacteria in your dog’s mouth. The bacteria may be present; as part of tooth root infections, attached in the plaque, and even in what appears to be a clean mouth can still contribute to bad breath (halitosis).
Why does my dog have mouth problems?
In order to determine why your dog is drooling, has bad breath and sore gums it is essential that he has a full examination by your vet, there can be underlying diseases that are causing your dog’s symptoms such as poor immunity (ability to heal and fight infection), underactive thyroid gland (Hypothyroidism) and over production of steroid (Cushings disease) to mention a few. Many of the underlying illnesses can be picked up on blood tests which are done on a sample of your dog’s blood collected by your vet and then sent to a laboratory for analysis.
What can be done to help my dog?
Once your vet has ruled out any underlying diseases, then a close look at your dog’s mouth is necessary, there may be further dental disease needing treatment such as further extractions, sometimes your vet will suggest performing x-rays to check if there are infected tooth roots where the piece of the tooth visible appears healthy. Some dogs have skin folds around their mouths and these can trap saliva, the skin becomes inflamed, infected and smelly. The skin folds can be treated by use of antibiotics, trimming the hair from the skin fold and cleaning with an antiseptic solution.
If there is no need for any further dental treatment, then some dogs benefit from the use of antiseptic mouth sprays or drinking water additives to help reduce bacteria levels in the mouth.
Regular courses of antibiotics can be used under the direction of your vet, in some cases this is the only way to keep some dog’s mouths clean and healthy.
So where there are any ongoing dental disease issues it is vital to work with your vet to find the best plan of action to keep your dog happy, healthy and comfortable. I hope that this has helped to answer your question.
Shanika Winters MRCVS (Online Vet)