The stench from the gates of hell is unbearable. It was my dog’s breath. The elderly champion had two abscessed molars. The bill for removing the teeth, blood work, teeth cleaning and antibiotics was formidable.

Horrible breath tells you that dental health has been neglected. Lhasas need extra attention as their slightly undershot bite is not a normal canine occlusion, which can lead to more dental issues. Also, when teeth are packed into too small a jaw, the risk of dental calculus and subsequent problems increases.

Dental plaque – that unsightly hard brown scale on the teeth – leads to bad breath, gingivitis, periodontal disease, abscesses and tooth loss. And that’s just what happens to the mouth. Research indicates a link between dental disease and heart disease, ear infections and decreased fertility. A painful mouth may cause chronic paw-licking, head scratching and rubbing, and even biting. The economic impact of dirty teeth is amazing. Routine cleaning may cost $300 to $1,000, depending on geographic location and the clinic. Add the cost of diseased gums, abscessed molars and infection, and your dog’s mouth could cost you serious money, not to mention the guilt. And it’s mostly preventable.

Suffice it to say that clean teeth are an integral part of show condition. We expect our dogs’ coats to be clean and groomed in the show ring. One shouldn’t show a dog with dirty teeth any more than you would a dirty matted coat. Every dog should have good dental health.

Americans buy miles of dental floss, tons of toothpaste and spend millions on white smiles. But their dogs’ teeth usually are neglected. Dog breath has real meaning, as in dirty teeth and bad gums. So how do we keep a dog’s mouth healthy?

Regular examination is first. Out of sight quickly becomes unsightly. Check often. The body chemistry of each dog is different. Vets agree that some dogs maintain clean teeth with minimum care, while others challenge best efforts at oral health, appearing to have months of neglect just days or weeks after professional cleaning.

Regular examination is the only way you learn how much maintenance your dog needs.

There are options to maintain oral health, but no magic solutions. Brushing with enzymatic toothpaste is the first line of defense. Realistically, Lhasas are intolerant of this invasive (in their view) effort and if one has more than a couple of dogs, time is an issue. Do what you can, but do it regularly.

You can add plaque-cleaning solutions to drinking water in open bowls. My experience adding it to lick-it bottles was not good. Some plaque-removing gels do work – if used regularly. Apply the gel along the gum line between the teeth and the cheeks using your finger or a medicine syringe according to directions. Learn to use dental tools to chip plaque off the teeth, then use gel or brush to keep them clean.

To reduce bacterial load, wash water and food bowls using dish detergent daily, and at least once a week in the dishwasher. Clean water bottle valves weekly using soapy water and a small amount of bleach. Machine-wash fabric toys frequently with a small amount of chlorine bleach.

These measures will help control – not eliminate – dental disease. There are no overnight results, but patience and persistence pay off. Even so, some dogs will defy your best efforts and need periodic professional care.

Cassandra de la Rosa, The American Lhasa Apso Club, Email: dlrcas@msn.com