Get your dogs chewing and break down plaque ...

Probably the most common problem that affects dogs' mouths is gum disease. Starting silently with no obvious signs or symptoms, it advances quickly, causing chronic pain, eroded gums, missing teeth, even bone loss - a fate hardly fair to your four-legged friend. In fact gum disease is so common, studies show over 80% of dogs suffer a stage of gum disease before they are three years old.

Plaque causes inflammation (reddening) of the gums (gingivitis) which can initially be very subtle, making them more likely to bleed. Plaque not removed over time hardens, mineralising into calculus (tartar), the browny yellow hard substance on your dog's teeth, and the perfect surface for even more plaque to stick to, speeding up the whole process. Gingivitis is reversible but, if left untreated, it progresses to periodontitis.

Periodontitis is irreversible, characterised by loss of attachment for the tooth in the socket, which may lead to tooth mobility, loss of tooth, and severe infections. Bacteria may potentially enter the bloodstream every time your dog chews, causing infections much further afield in the heart, lungs and kidneys.

Effects of severe gum disease can include abnormal bad breath (halitosis) caused by periodontal disease. Imagine your own breath if you stopped brushing your teeth for a few days! Never ignore this early warning sign of disease. There are many other causes of bad breath too, so it's important to get it checked by your vet as soon as possible, rather than assume it's normal or an inevitable sign of old age

Dental disease can be painful, but most animals are extremely good at covering up the signs and will rarely stop eating. So look out for difficulty picking up food; bleeding or red gums; loose teeth; blood in saliva, water bowl or on chew toys; strange noises when eating; pawing at mouth/face; and dribbling. If in any doubt, ask your vet.