Dog Dental Care

Dental problems are quite common in dogs, but they can be easily prevented by teaming up with your veterinarian to provide routine dog dental care at home and during your pet’s annual checkup.

The American Veterinary Dental Society estimates that 80 percent of dogs over the age of 3 have gum disease. Smaller dog breeds are more likely to suffer from dental problems than larger breeds, perhaps because their smaller mouths cannot accommodate 42 permanent teeth as easily as a larger dog’s mouth can.

The Tip off: Bad Breath

One of the most common indicators of a dental problem is bad breath. This is caused by a buildup of plaque that irritates a dog’s gums. If plaque is left untreated, it can form periodontal (gum) disease that causes the gums to pull away from the teeth. Food and debris can collect in the open areas near your dog’s teeth, and they can lead to infection and even tooth loss. Other signs of gum disease include yellowish to brownish buildup on your dog’s teeth, inflamed or receding gums, bleeding and pain.

Gum disease doesn’t stop in your dog’s mouth, either. The inflammation and infection it causes in your dog’s mouth can spread through his bloodstream and damage his heart, liver or kidneys.

Professional Cleaning Needed

As part of his annual checkup, your dog should have his teeth scaled. Your dog will be anesthetized for the procedure, and he may receive follow-up antibiotic treatment to prevent infection.

The scaling procedure usually includes the removal of plaque and tartar both above and below the gumline. This is followed by a polishing to ensure any irregularities are removed. Polishing leaves a smoother tooth surface that’s less likely to have plaque form on it. The polishing is followed by an oral rinse to remove any debris that came loose during the scaling. Finally, your veterinarian will examine your dog’s teeth and note or correct any problems.

Daily Brushing Is Important

At-home care is vital to your dog’s overall dental health. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and special pet toothpaste daily to remove plaque and food residue from your pet’s teeth and gums. Do not use human toothpastes because their foaming action may cause stomach upset in your dog.

In addition to daily brushing, offer your pet dental chews or specially designed dental chew toys to condition his teeth and gums. You can also add dental rinses to your dog's water bowl to help reduce plaque on his teeth. Some dogs benefit from specially prescribed dental diets, which are formulated to reduce plaque buildup.

Begin Brushing Early

The easiest way to accustom your dog to dental care is to start brushing his teeth when he is a puppy. Begin training your dog when he is about 4 months old (after his permanent teeth come in). However, dogs of any age can learn to tolerate the procedure with patient repetition from their owners and consistent praise afterward.

Healthy teeth and gums are important to your dog’s overall health. With a combination of care from you and your veterinarian, your dog’s teeth should be in great shape for years to come.