Preventing dog dental disease with proper dental care

Preventing dog dental disease with proper dental care - playful golden retriever

Dental disease is very common among dogs and can lead to many other health conditions and illnesses. It is important for dog owners to understand what causes dental disease and the importance of proper dental hygiene. Read on if you have ever wondered:

  • Why is oral hygiene important for my dog?
  • How do I know if my dog has dental disease?
  • What types of dental diseases can my dog get?
  • Should I brush my dog’s teeth?
  • Are veterinary cleanings necessary?
  • Do dental treats and chews prevent dental disease?

Dental disease refers to a variety of conditions affecting a dog’s mouth, including the teeth, gums, and structures that support the tooth. It is an extremely common condition, reported to affect as many as 80% of dogs by the age of three. Advanced dental disease can also lead to a wide variety of complications and may even decrease life expectancy.

Why is dental hygiene important for dogs?

Proper dental hygiene not only protects your dog’s healthy teeth but can also prevent the onset of dental and gum disease and associated health conditions. Left untreated, dental disease puts dogs at risk for:

  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Bacterial infections and abscesses

These conditions, along with the pain dental disease can cause, can affect the longevity and quality of your dog’s life. Fortunately, dental disease can be prevented with proper dental care.

What are the signs of canine dental disease?

The signs and symptoms of dental disease in dogs can occur gradually. “Symptoms of dental disease are often overlooked by pet owners,” states Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. “It’s common for pet owners to be shocked by the advanced stage of dental disease in their dogs because they are still eating and behaving normally.” It’s rare for dental disease to cause pain or lead to decreased appetite and weight loss. Don’t assume that just because your dog is eating fine their teeth must be okay. Ignoring dental disease puts your dog at risk for developing more serious conditions down the road.

Symptoms of dental disease in dogs may include:

  • Chronic bad breath
  • Brown or yellow tartar on the teeth
  • Red, swollen, or bloody gums
  • Pain in the mouth
  • Chewing on one side of the mouth
  • Chronic eye or ear infections
  • Lack of appetite or unwillingness to eat

Bad breath is not normal and is a sign of poor dental health. If your dog has chronically bad breath without eating a particularly smelly treat, it may be time for a dental examination with your veterinarian. Signs of pain or inflammation in the mouth should be examined as soon as possible.

What are the types of dental diseases in dogs?

The three main types of dental issues in dogs are periodontal disease, endodontic disease, and developmental abnormalities.

1 - Periodontal disease in dogs

Plaque buildup on teeth is the most common cause of dental disease. The presence of bacteria and plaque on the teeth causes periodontal disease which affects the gums and tooth support structures. Gingivitis, or gum inflammation, and tartar formation along the gumline are the early signs of periodontal disease. If it progresses, periodontitis can occur, causing severe gum disease and tooth loss. Gingivitis can sometimes be reversed, but periodontitis cannot. The disease is treated with regular brushing at home, professional dental cleanings, and tooth extractions of loose teeth.

2 - Endodontic disease in dogs

Canine endodontic disease occurs inside the tooth rather than at the gum line. Tooth injuries, enamel abnormalities, and tooth decay all cause endodontic disease in dogs. When dogs break or injure their teeth by chewing on rocks, bones, or cages, endodontic disease can occur leading to tooth decay. Signs include painful teeth, visible fractures, or teeth with a reddish-brown, purple, or gray color. Treatment for endodontic disease includes extracting the affected teeth or root canal procedures.

3 - Oral developmental abnormalities in dogs

Genetics can play a role in canine dental health as well. Puppies can have unerupted teeth or teeth that remain under the gumline. Unerupted teeth can develop oral cysts. Dogs can also inherit or develop improper bites or enamel defects. Depending on the type of improper bite, tooth extractions or oral surgeries may be needed. The severity of enamel defects will determine what treatment is needed. This can include bonding synthetic material to the teeth, fluoride treatment from a vet, and oral surgery.

What are the risk factors for canine dental disease?

There are many causes of canine dental disease. Some dogs may be more prone to oral disease and malformations than others. Risk factors include:

  • Inadequate home oral care
  • Breed or genetics
  • Diseases or medications
  • Retained baby teeth
  • Obesity
  • Presence of foreign material between teeth (hair, chew toy fragments, fabric, etc.)
  • Nutritional components of diet

Dog owners not brushing their pet’s teeth on a regular basis is the most common cause of dental disease. Some breeds are more prone to tooth overcrowding or enamel defects. Other diseases, like distemper and diabetes, can also affect a dog’s predisposition for developing dental disease.

How do you brush a dog’s teeth?

Brushing a dog’s teeth on a regular basis is crucial for overall health. Owners should brush or wipe their dog’s teeth and gums every day. A dog toothbrush, finger toothbrush, or damp washcloth can all be effective for maintaining proper oral hygiene. The friction between the brush and the tooth removes the plaque, so toothpaste is not necessary. It may be a tasty incentive to get your dog excited about daily brushing, however. Note: always use dog toothpaste, as human toothpaste may cause stomach upset when swallowed and may contain xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.

There are many steps you can take to incorporate daily brushing into your dog’s routine. Here are some ideas:

  • Use a yummy dog toothpaste
  • Start training young
  • Slowly acclimate your dog to brushing
  • Make it a fun game

To brush your dog’s teeth, start at the gum line and work your way down using small, circular motions. Teeth against the cheek are the most likely to develop excess plaque and tartar buildup, so focus your effort there. Tartar is less likely to build up in hard-to-reach places like the lingual (near the tongue) surfaces, so don’t worry if you can’t reach there . A veterinarian can show you how to brush your dog’s teeth if you are having trouble or if your dog is particularly resistant. Even a small amount of brushing is better than nothing.

How do veterinarians clean your dog’s teeth?

Daily brushing at home is crucial, but it can only remove plaque up to the gum line. A professional dental exam and dental cleaning at your veterinarian’s office will remove plaque buildup both above and below the gum line, remove hardened tartar, and check for other dental problems. Vets will scale your dog’s teeth under anesthesia in order to reach and clean every tooth. Anesthesia will also keep your dog comfortable if they need extractions of broken, loose, or rotten teeth.

While your primary care veterinarian is usually perfectly skilled at handling common dental concerns, they may also refer a pet owner to a dental specialist in some cases. This is especially important for advanced procedures like root canals.

Is my dog too old for anesthesia?

Pet owners’ fear of anesthesia is one of the biggest barriers to canine dental health. While any use of anesthesia has its risks, they are very low. Vets take steps to minimize those risks by performing a physical exam and recommending diagnostic tests like bloodwork, chest X-rays, or an ECG prior to the procedure. Anesthetic protocols are tailored to each individual, taking into account the dog’s age and any underlying health conditions. Extensive monitoring during and providing IV fluids the procedure also minimizes the risks. Ultimately, the health risks of advanced dental disease outweigh the risks of general anesthesia for most dogs, and your veterinarian has the training and experience to help you make informed decisions when it is not.

Can dental treats and chews help my dog’s teeth?

Even the most effective dental diets, treats, oral rinses, water additives, and chew toys provide only partial help with delaying the accumulation of plaque. Many dog foods and treats that claim to aid in dental health have no scientific proof supporting their efficacy. Look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal to be sure you’re getting a product likely to be of some benefit. Keep in mind that even VOHC-approved foods and treats are not a substitute for brushing or professional dental cleanings. Supplementary tools like these alone cannot prevent dental disease — they merely attempt to delay its progression.

The best use case for VOHC-approved foods or treats is in young dogs prior to the onset of dental diseases, and after a professional dental cleaning.

Food and treats do very little to remove plaque, and are completely ineffective at removing tartar buildup. If you notice plaque, tartar, or other symptoms on your dog’s teeth, a dental treat or food, even if it carries a VOHC seal, will not fix the problem. This is the time to make a dental appointment with your veterinarian for a professional cleaning to scale off the hardened tartar.

What is the best way to take care of my dog’s teeth?

Thorough, daily brushing at home and regular veterinary dental checkups are essential to your dog’s dental health. Pet parents should routinely check their dog’s teeth for plaque, tartar, and damage to catch dental disease early. Contact a veterinarian if your dog begins to show signs of dental disease. If you have questions about your dog’s oral care, you can book an online virtual care appointment to speak to a vet.

FAQ - Preventing dog dental disease with proper dental care

What are the symptoms of dental disease in dogs?

Dental disease is an umbrella term used to describe many diseases and conditions of a dog’s mouth and jaw. Symptoms of dental disease in dogs vary depending on the type of disease or condition they have. The most common symptoms of dental disease in dogs are chronic bad breath, brown or yellow tartar on the teeth, and inflammation of the gums.

Can you cure dental disease in dogs?

Some types of dental diseases and conditions can be reversed. Early stages of gingivitis can be reversed and unerupted teeth or broken teeth can be extracted. However, other conditions are irreversible but can be managed, and progression can be slowed.

Is dental disease in dogs fatal?

Most forms of dental disease are usually not fatal. Dental disease can lead to bacterial infections which can be fatal in rare cases. Left untreated, dental disease may also cause kidney or liver damage which can decrease life expectancy.

Is teeth cleaning really necessary for dogs?

Regular teeth cleaning is essential for a dog’s overall health. Dog owners should brush their pet’s teeth daily at home and have routine dental cleanings with their veterinarian.

How can I keep my dog’s teeth clean without brushing?

Genetics plays a big role affecting how rapidly your dog develops tartar, but ultimately your dog’s teeth will not stay clean without brushing. Brushing at home removes plaque from the teeth, preventing it from hardening into tartar and eventually leading to dental disease. There are no dental chews, treats, diets, oral rinses, water additives, or chew toys that replace the benefit of brushing your dog’s teeth.

The Vetster Editorial Team is comprised of seasoned writers and communicators dedicated to elevating stories about Vetster, pets and their owners.
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