Dental Specialist examines dog's teeth.

Why Does My Dog Need A Dental Specialist?

When you’re a pet parent, it’s hard to avoid a dog’s hot breath as they lean in for a friendly lick or bark for your attention. Most often, your fur baby’s kisses are too sweet to resist, but other times, their breath can be too pungent to endure.

So, how can you tell if your pet needs more attention than their routine oral check-up? I consulted Dr. Karyn Collier, DVM of Saint Francis Veterinary Center and the American Veterinary Dental College for their insights on when a visit to a pet dental specialist is necessary for your dog’s health.

What Is a Pet Dental Specialist?

A Pet Dental Specialist is a veterinary dentist who has undergone additional steps including extensive education, examinations, training, and residency to achieve Board Certified Veterinary Dentist designation. “Board certified veterinary dentists have received additional and specialized training that allows them to perform more complex procedures than general practitioners,” said Dr. Collier.

What Are Common Symptoms That Require a Dental Specialist?

If you suspect oral disease in your pet, your first step should be to schedule an exam with their veterinarian. Many dental specialists accept patients on referral-only basis, so this first consultation is highly recommended. In some cases, the primary veterinarian may be able to resolve the dental issue. However, if symptoms are deemed to be more complex, a referral will be made to a dental specialist for assistance or a second opinion.

Listed below are common reasons for a vet to recommend a dental specialist:

What Are the Warning Signs for Oral or Dental Disease?

Most dog owners are used to “dog breath,” but pay attention if you notice worsening odors. These could be a sign of halitosis, which is a common gum condition that causes bad breath for humans and canines alike. According to Dr. Collier, other signs of oral disease can include reluctance to eat or difficulty chewing, hyper-salivating, rubbing of the face, or pawing at the mouth. Also, yellowish buildup on your dog’s teeth and gums can serve as a visual clue, so check their mouths frequently.

Dental Tips for Pet Owners

It’s important to get into an oral-care routine as soon as your puppy’s adult teeth have come in, since their gums can be sensitive while they are teething. Daily brushing and using toothpaste created for pets is also important. Dr. Collier prefers enzymatic toothpaste and dental chews.

“Most importantly, don’t skip the dental cleanings that are recommended by your veterinarian. Where anesthesia may make pet owners nervous, it can be safely administered, and the benefits of routine cleaning are lifelong,” she adds.

Are There Any Foods or Treats That Help Promote Healthy Teeth and Gums?

Canine teeth are strong, but extremely hard treats and bones can fracture their chompers. Veterinary dental specialists recommend that if you cannot make an indentation in the chew bone you are about to give your dog, it is probably too hard for their teeth. However, dental chew sticks not only satisfy the canine’s natural urge, they curb boredom and mild anxiety, help reduce tartar build-up, and strengthen the teeth and jaw. Lastly, don’t forget to monitor your dogs while they are chomping away at their sticks and always have fresh water available.

Here is a list of board-certified dental specialists and be sure to check out these Veterinary Oral Health Council-approved dental care products for dogs. You can also try these home remedies to freshen doggy-breath in between vet visits.

Special thanks to Dr. Karyn Collier, Medical Director for Wellness Medicine at Saint Francis Veterinary Center, and to American Veterinary Dental College for their expertise.