Do you have questions about taking care of your dog’s teeth? We’ve answered some commonly asked questions below:

My veterinarian told me 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 both dogs and cats, with about 70% of all dogs over the age of 3 being affected. If you were to notice any sign of red and/or bleeding gums in your dog, tartar accumulation on or around the teeth, or signs of any mouth discomfort or fowl smelling breath, it may be time to contact your veterinarian for a dental exam and a teeth cleaning.

Just what is tartar? Why is it so bad?

Bacteria naturally inhabit our mouths as well as our pets’ mouths and if allowed will breed on the surface of the teeth to form an invisible layer of a sticky substance called plaque. Accumulation of this plaque, which is only somewhat reduced by the dog’s tongue movements and chewing, will allow it to mineralize and thicken on and 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 it collects on the tooth, it will press and irritate the gums, causing inflammation or gingivitis. If the tartar is not removed, this process will continue; 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. Periodontal disease is more likely to occur in some breeds than in others, but will affect most adult dogs if left untreated.

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 general examination to rule out any underlying health issues. If it is determined that your pet would benefit from a teeth cleaning and polishing, also referred to as dental prophylaxis, this procedure will remove the tartar and plaque that has built up on the teeth. This hardened, mineralized layer can only be removed by those specially trained and while your pet is under anesthesia. Blood work is routinely done to determine adequate liver and kidney function to ensure that anesthesia can be given safely during dental cleaning. At this time, it may be determined that your dog may need to be started on antibiotics prior to teeth cleaning or your veterinarian may discuss other pre-dental recommendations such as x-rays.

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 treat? Do they help?

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 texturized to aid in scraping off some of the plaque. 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, or at least twice weekly, teeth brushing and all are to be used in addition to regular professional cleanings.

Sounds like brushing is important! Just 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 (or at least twice weekly) 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 just for dogs that are palatable with canine friendly flavors.

Human toothpaste should NEVER be given to your dog since it is a foaming product but more importantly they are not to be swallowed and may contain sodium which may be harmful to your pet. You may want to ask your veterinarian for helpful advice on the best way to brush your dog’s teeth. As challenging as it may seem, with patience, perseverance and some TLC, it can be accomplished and can make a big difference in your pet’s overall dental health.

The old adage is true; an ounce of prevention IS worth a pound of cure! This is ever so important as it pertains to maintaining your pet’s dental health with annual cleanings, periodic dental exams, and daily home care.

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