Dog Dental Care

Brushing your dog's teeth is an important part of your dog's health care routine.

By | Posted: Feb 20, 2013, 8 a.m. EDT

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dog tooth brushingTo ensure good dental health, a dog’s teeth need to be brushed daily using a special toothbrush and toothpaste made for dogs. This dental care regimen should start when your dog is six to eight months of age, once the adult teeth are in. For dogs who aren’t willing to have their teeth brushed but have a problem with rapid tartar buildup, veterinarians recommend feeding the dog a special dental diet that’s designed to have a crosshatch effect on teeth, scrubbing them all the way to the gum line. Other dry dog foods and biscuits can help crack off tartar but don’t affect the gum line area.

Other preventive measures include providing dog toys and treats that have a tartar-removing effect. These include hard rubber chew toys with hollow interiors that can be stuffed with treats, as well as rope or sheepskin toys, which have fibers that help keep the dog’s teeth clean.

If a dog’s teeth aren’t cared for, the result is sure to be periodontal disease, the most common dental condition affecting dogs. Periodontal disease is the inflammation and infection of the gums and supporting tissues of the teeth. It begins when bacteria-laden plaque and tartar (calculus) build up on teeth, especially below the gum line. Pockets form under the gum line and food lodges in the pockets. These bits of dog food that remain on teeth are breeding grounds for bacteria. The resulting infection causes bad breath, bleeding and inflammation of the gums, receding gums, loosening of teeth, and eventual tooth loss.

According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, more than 80 percent of dogs over the age of three years develop gum, or periodontal, disease. Any dog can develop periodontal disease, but it’s seen most commonly in toy dog breeds. These dogs have the same number of teeth (42) as larger dog breeds, but the teeth are crowded into a smaller area. Regular brushing is the best way to get rid of dog food residue so it doesn’t harden and form the ugly brown deposits known as tartar.

Routine periodontal treatment performed by a veterinarian typically includes ultrasonic scaling, subgingival manual scaling, and polishing. For advanced cases of periodontal disease, some dental specialists use antibiotic therapy, which involves cleaning and polishing the teeth, regular home brushing, and administering antibiotics for the first five days of every month. This dental care regimen decreases the progression of the disease. Another new treatment is Doxyrobe, a gel placed inside the socket to sterilize it. This sustained-release form of doxycycline is used in periodontal pockets to increase attachment. If the dog’s teeth are in really bad shape, periodontal surgery such as bone grafting and guided tissue regeneration can be performed. For the most severe cases, extraction is the only option.

Endodontic conditions involve broken or abscessed teeth that require root canals or extractions. Endodontic problems are most common in large dogs, especially shepherd and retriever dog breeds. These dogs chew a lot on such things as fences, cow hooves, and bones, wearing their teeth down and sometimes breaking them. Even chewing on ice cubes can cause a dog’s teeth to fracture.

dog dental infographic

Dental fractures are common in dogs, and treatment is a must if the pulp, the soft tissue that fills the center of a tooth, is exposed. This is not only painful, but it can also lead to tissue death and abscess. A root canal is the preferred method of treatment for such cases, although occasionally extraction is the best choice.

Don’t ignore a broken tooth, even if it doesn’t seem to bother the dog. The majority of dogs are happier and more active once a tooth repair is made.

There are cases where a dog may require oral surgery. Oral surgery is done usually to remove teeth or repair fractured jaws. Extractions are performed with minimal pain and discomfort, and jaw fractures can be repaired using new techniques that minimize damage to the dog’s teeth and ensure a rapid return to normal function.

Dogs may also need oral surgery when they’re diagnosed with tumors of the mouth and throat, which are common in dogs. Radiotherapy and recently developed surgical techniques for removing oral tumors are now available. These techniques often give excellent results, both in terms of cosmetic appearance and prognosis, provided they are applied at an early stage of the disease.

Examine your dog’s mouth monthly. Oral tumors can go unnoticed until they’ve reached an advanced stage of development, making successful treatment more difficult. Bring any suspicious swellings or persistent sores to the attention of your veterinarian. Besides oral tumors, dogs can also develop noncancerous masses and swellings such as gingival hyperplasia.

Excerpt from The Original Dog Bible with permission from its publisher I-5 Publishing, LLC. Purchase The Original Dog Bible here.

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