Keeping Your Dog’s Teeth Healthy

Proper dental care should be a regular part of your program for keeping your dog healthy and happy.

It is often overlooked, but pets can suffer the same kinds of dental problems as humans, including severe pain, infection and tooth loss. You can help prevent those issues – and solve those that do arise – by learning about the basics of tooth care and working closely with your veterinarian. You may also be able to take advantage of recent advances in veterinary dentistry, including implants, braces, ultrasonic scaling, root canals, bonding and brightening.

Most dental problems start small and build over time for dogs. Beginning at a very young age, food particles, bacteria and debris can build up at the gum line and under the gums to form plaque. Left unattended, plaque can harden to become calculus and lead to serious oral conditions, including gingivitis, periodontitis and stomatitis.

Some veterinarians also believe – although the evidence is not conclusive – that bacteria associated with tooth and gum disease can spread to internal body systems and contribute to infections in organs like the heart, liver and kidney. If so, a dental prevention program could even help extend a pet's life.

Periodontal disease is the most common disease of small animals. It can be very painful, but pets often suffer in silence – sometimes until all of their teeth have become infected. Relieving that pain may bring a noticeable brightening to a dog's behavior and personality.

A Visit to Your Veterinarian

Dogs should have periodic dental exams. The frequency depends on the animal's age.

The Exam

A veterinarian will examine your pet's teeth and gums in many of the same ways that a dentist looks at yours. The examination will include a visual and manual inspection to check for signs of gum disease, tooth discoloration, loose teeth and indications of sensitivity or pain. It may also include:

Your veterinarian will clean your pet's teeth if there is a build-up of tartar or plaque. This can be done ultrasonically just as it's done for humans. Your vet will probably recommend removing loose teeth and recommend either removal or a root canal procedure if there's tooth decay.

Brushing Your Pet's Teeth

Yes, you can and should brush your pet's teeth. Ideally, you should brush daily, but brushing at least three times a week will go a long way in helping to prevent dental and related problems. First, though, a caution: your pet may dislike the process and resist strenuously. If so, proceed slowly and with care.

The best time to clean your pet's teeth is after the evening meal. Your pet will become more cooperative over time if you establish a routine. For example: First feed your pet, next clean the teeth, then play with him. Most dogs adapt to this routine surprisingly well.

Some pet foods have been developed to enhance oral care by having an abrasive action that is designed to scrape tartar from the teeth. There are also numerous chew products available that may be helpful. Use common sense and caution when choosing these products, and ask your veterinarian for help.

The Danger Signs

You can examine your pet's mouth yourself to watch for developing problems. This, too, should be done with caution. It involves looking into the back of the mouth where tartar builds up most and requires pulling your pet's mouth toward the ear. You will be looking for: