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Published: Sep 27, 2012

It's simply not realistic to think your dog will have fresh breath all of the time. After all, he doesn't brush after each meal, rinse with mouthwash or even see a dentist twice a year like most humans. But pet health experts say it's important to keep an eye on your pet's oral health, as bad breath can be a clinical sign of dental disease in dogs.

According to, it's estimated that more than 80 percent of dogs have "significant" oral pathology. And while foul-smelling breath is one thing, vets say that poor oral hygiene can cause problems that go way beyond your dog's mouth.

"The toxins from periodontal disease are absorbed into the dog's blood stream," veterinarian Jan Bellows, from the American Veterinary Dental College, told PetMD. "As the kidneys, liver and brain filter the blood, small infections occur causing permanent and at times fatal organ damage."

If your dog has bad breath, it doesn't mean he is - or will become - seriously ill. However, veterinarians say that monitoring your dog's oral health is an important part of his overall health.

Pet owners can help keep their dogs healthier by doing an at-home dental inspection of their pets each week. While a little "doggie breath" is to be expected, extremely bad breath is reason enough to contact your vet. If foul breath is accompanied by a loss of appetite, vomiting or excessive drinking or urinating, you should also contact a pet health expert, according to the ASPCA.

Other things that indicate a problem include excessive drooling, inflamed gums, plaque, tumors and cysts in the mouth as well as loose teeth.

Besides monitoring for problems, pet owners can take an active role in preventing dental disease in dogs. According to the ASPCA, feeding your dog a healthy, meat-based diet can improve his oral health. Minimizing the human food you give your pet as well as choosing a dog food that slows the formation of plaque and tartar may be beneficial. Giving your canine treats that help clean the teeth and allowing him to chew on rawhide, nylon and rubber chew toys can also help.

Regularly cleaning your dog's teeth can also reduce his risk of developing dental disease. You can buy a special dog toothbrush at your favorite pet supply store or wrap some soft gauze around your finger. Doggie toothpaste and mouthwash are also available to purchase. You can make your own canine-friendly toothpaste by mixing baking soda and water to make a paste.

The ASPCA recommends getting your pet used to someone touching his mouth by massaging his lips with your finger for about a minute a few times each week before moving onto the teeth. When he allows you to touch and clean his teeth, aim to do so two or three times each week.

Just like regular visits to your vet to monitor your dog's health, problems with his oral health will need to be evaluated by a professional. Your veterinarian can tell you if your pet needs a more intense dental cleaning that may include the use of anesthesia.