Dental disease is no fun at all for your dog. Just like in humans, it can cause an awful lot of pain and discomfort.
Tooth and gum problems can make your pup less comfortable eating and chewing his food. He may even start to refuse food altogether.
Another result of poor dental health is evil-smelling breath. The ‘doggy' breath people sometimes joke about is not the norm and will make your pet decidedly less kissable.
Most dangerous of all is the risk that bacterial infection in the gums can travel elsewhere inside your Bichon's body and cause a life threatening infection in the heart, liver, or kidneys.
Getting a headstart on your Bichon's dental care routine is vital.
Preventing dental problems is much easier and cheaper than having to fix serious issues further down the line.
Our fur-kids' wolf ancestors have a natural way to clean their teeth thanks to their ‘wild' diet. Spending lots of time munching through animal carcasses (including tough hide and raw bones) has an abrasive, cleaning effect on teeth.
But the modern-day dog kibble or canned food you are probably feeding your Bichon can't provide these benefits. This is why so many dogs end up suffering from dental problems.
A lot of Bichon owners will only realize that their pup had a dental health problem when their breath starts to smell terrible.
Other external signs of dental disease include:
- Problems eating or chewing or refusal to eat
- Personality changes e.g., grumpiness or even aggression
Once these symptoms are beginning to show, it may already be too late to prevent severe damage.
That's why it is essential to get into the habit of regularly ‘lifting the lip' of your dog. Make a visual check on all your pet's teeth and gums, looking for signs of plaque build-up and irritation in the gums.
It's a shocking figure, isn't it? Periodontal disease is incredibly common and can lead to problems much more serious than the obvious stinky breath and stained teeth.
What is periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease starts as a build-up of plaque, just like in humans. Plaque is a combination of saliva proteins and bacteria, and it forms a biofilm that coats your Bichon's teeth.
Over time this film of bacteria starts to build up and calcify, meaning it hardens into a solid substance known as tartar.
Although the tartar does not technically do any damage, it will irritate the lining of the gums, causing redness and bleeding.
Eventually, the gums will push away from the teeth leaving a gap that creates a perfect place for bacteria to breed.
If you lift your Bichon's lip and spot a narrow red line along each gum near the tooth, that is one early warning sign.
Bleeding from the gums during brushing is another.
Inflammation along the gum line is called gingivitis.
If you spot signs of gingivitis it's important to take action straight away to prevent your dog's dental health from getting worse.
What happens if you ignore your dog's dental health?
Well, it may mean that your dog begins to lose parts of his gums and the bones supporting the teeth.
The damage will be irreversible, and the gaps and crevices left behind are perfect homes for more bacteria to take up residence and cause further problems.
At a very advanced stage, periodontal disease can lead to infections in the mouth spreading elsewhere in your dog's body via the bloodstream.
If bacteria from the mouth end up in your Bichon's heart, liver, or kidneys, it could cause a fatal infection.
Hopefully, we've now convinced you just how serious dental problems can be for your Bichon.
So what can you do to stop this from happening to your dog? Fortunately, quite a bit!
The two key things to keep your Bichon's chompers healthy are:
- Daily tooth brushing with dog toothpaste
- Annual dental exam and cleaning at the vet
Just like us, daily tooth brushing is the secret to keeping teeth clean and healthy, even as your dog gets older.
There are two main types of dog toothbrush.
- A regular dog toothbrush looks a lot like a human toothbrush with bristles at one or both ends. It usually has a more extended handle and angled brush end to help you reach your dog's molars.
- A finger dog toothbrush is a flexible brush with rubber bristles that fits over your index finger. Many people find the finger toothbrushes more comfortable to use. A lot of dogs also prefer them.
Daily brushing with one of these brushes is the best way to make a serious dent in the build-up of plaque on your dog's teeth before it can start to cause problems.
Do you need to clean the inside of your dog's teeth? Fortunately not. Giving the teeth a good brush on all outside (cheek facing) areas is adequate. Vets do not recommend trying to stick your fingers or hand right inside your dog's mouth.
As your dog licks at the toothpaste, his tongue should spread the paste around on the inside of his teeth.
What toothpaste should you use? Do not use human toothpaste. It usually contains fluoride or sugar, neither of which are suitable for your dog, especially as he can't spit it out as you can.
Use a specialist dog toothpaste with natural enzymes that break down plaque. Many dog toothpastes come in delicious meaty or malty flavors.
Sentry Petrodex is a good quality enzyme toothpaste for dogs that's recommended by vets.
Before you start to brush your dog's teeth, get a good amount of toothpaste on the brush and press it down into the bristles.
When brushing, make sure you are getting the brush into the gum line and work the brush towards the back of your dog's mouth. This is where the molars are, and it's the area most likely to have plaque build-up.
If your pet tires of the activity and runs off, you will at least get this higher risk area clean.
If you have never brushed your dog's teeth before the gums may start to bleed a little bit, but don't worry as this will soon stop if you keep up with brushing regularly.
Getting a new puppy or adult dog used to having their teeth brushed is not an easy task. After all, it's hardly a natural thing for a dog to have some human stick their finger inside their mouth!
The trick is to take things slowly at first and don't force the issue if they are unsure.
To start with, allow them to get used to having your fingers near their mouth, stroking around their lips and nose. Gently lift your dog's lip for a moment or two and your finger over the teeth.
Over a few days, increase the amount of time you spend rubbing your finger over your dog's teeth. Move your finger in a brushing motion and towards the molar teeth towards the back of the jaw.
If your dog seems happy with things so far, it's time to add the finger brush and a small amount of toothpaste.
Make sure you give your dog lots of praise every time he sits calmly and allows you to jam your fingers in his mouth! Lots of treats and pats afterward will leave him feeling positive about the whole experience.
At least once a year, your Bichon will also need to have their teeth professionally examined and cleaned by a veterinarian. The inside and outside of all your dog's teeth will be checked, scaled, and polished.
As a dental treatment involves general anesthesia, it can be expensive. But the costs of dental problems later in life will more than outweigh the price of these preventative treatments.
As well as daily brushing and an annual professional clean, there are lots of fun dental toys and treats that can assist with dental health.
Many dog toys have features that help to remove plaque build-up from your dog's teeth.
Rope toys, like this Kong Wubba, are an excellent and cheap way to clean teeth while also having fun with your Bichon. A quick game of tug, and they will naturally be chomping down on rope fibers, which gently clean the gum line.
This pack of 2 dental toys from Petstages is ideal for small breeds like Bichon Frise. The bumpy and knobbly textures on the toys are great for massaging gums and removing soft tartar.
Another toy your pup is sure to love is this Gnawsome squeaky ball. The rubber nubs help clean your dog's mouth as he plays and chews on the ball. The ball squeaks and even lights up when bounced for added excitement!
As well as toys, there are a ton of tasty dental chews available. Many of these chews are scientifically proven to help with dental health.
They make a great back up plan if your dog is taking a long time to accept manual tooth brushing.
Greenies chews have a unique, chewy texture that cleans right up to the gum line as your dog chews on them. They are recommended by vets and the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) and scientifically proven to improve the health of teeth and gums.
They also help to freshen breath and are made from natural ingredients. The petite size Greenies chews are just right for a small breed like a Bichon Frise.
Ark Naturals Brushless Toothpaste Dental Chews are also a great treat for dogs who refuse to have their teeth brushed. They contain special dental ingredients to aid gentle tooth cleaning and polishing.
Ark chews also include natural breath fresheners like cinnamon, clove, and vanilla. Your dog's breath will smell divine!