I've heard dental problems are common is dogs, how will I know if my dog has a dental problem?
Dental disease is the most common disease in dogs, with about 70% of all dogs over the age of 3 being affected. Look for redness at the gum line or bleeding gums as well as tartar accumulation on or around the teeth. As well as signs of any mouth discomfort or fowl smelling breath, if your dog has any of these symptoms it may be time to contact your veterinarian for a dental exam and a teeth cleaning.
What is tartar and why is it so bad?
Bacteria naturally inhabit our mouths as well as our pets' mouths. If allowed, it will breed on the surface of the teeth to form an invisible layer of a sticky substance called plaque. Plaque accumulation, which is somewhat reduced by the dog's tongue movements and chewing, eventually will mineralize and thicken around the base of the tooth at the gum line and become visible as tartar. You can spot tartar by its yellow or brownish color. As tartar collects on the tooth, it will irritate the gums, causing inflammation or gingivitis. If the tartar is not removed, this process will continue and the gums will become more inflamed and infected leading to a condition called periodontal disease. This is a serious form of gum disease which can lead to gum recession and eventually to tooth loss. In addition, dental infections from periodontal disease can spread to other parts of the mouth and to internal organs such as the heart, kidneys and liver.
What can I expect when I bring my dog in for a dental exam and cleaning?
The exam will not only include examination of the mouth, teeth, and gums, but may also include a full physical examination to rule out any underlying health issues. If it is determined that your pet would benefit from removal of tartar and plaque that has built up on the teeth we will perform a dental prophylaxis, the medical term for cleaning and polishing. Plaque and tartar only be removed by those specially trained and is done while your pet is under anesthesia. Blood work may be needed to determine adequate liver and kidney function to ensure that anesthesia can be given safely during dental cleaning. It may also be determined that your dog be started on antibiotics prior to teeth cleaning or your veterinarian may discuss other pre-dental recommendations such as x-rays. During the cleaning careful attention is made, using special tools, to remove the tartar above as well as below the gum line since gum recession most often occurs from tartar accumulating below the gum line. If a diseased tooth is found, an extraction may be necessary. As is also appropriate in human dentistry, fluoride applications may be given to strengthen the tooth enamel with antibiotics given to treat any bacterial infections. Special compounds can be placed on the teeth to decrease the accumulation of plaque. In addition, polishing the teeth creates a smooth surface which deters bacteria from accumulating. Polishing is an important part of preventive care because plaque and tartar naturally begin to form on the teeth in as little as 6 hours after dental cleaning.
What about special dental diets and treats?
Special dental diets can play a role in reducing the accumulation of plaque and subsequent tartar formation. There are veterinarian approved dental diets available that have tartar reducing ingredients in them or have a larger kibble which are textured to aid in plaque removal. In addition, there are also special canine chew toys and treats that have tartar controlling ingredients. Many products such as oral rinses and water additives are also available that cut down on the bacteria in the mouth or have plaque reducing enzymes. Your veterinarian can give you specific dietary and dental aid recommendations that will help guide you in your pet's dental program. None however work better than daily, teeth brushing and all are to be used in addition to regular professional cleanings.
How do I go about brushing my dog's teeth?
As important as the cleaning and polishing is to remove any hardened deposits on the teeth, the prevention of plaque build up is just as important. A dental program which includes daily brushing using a veterinarian approved toothpaste and toothbrush can help maintain good oral hygiene and prevent the buildup of disease causing plaque and tartar. Be sure to choose toothpaste made for dogs, which come in a variety of canine friendly flavors. Human toothpaste should NEVER be given to your dog as it may contain ingredients that can be harmful to your pet.