What kinds of dental problems do dogs have?
Dental disease is as common in dogs as it is in people. The most common form of dental disease in man is decay or caries (cavities). In the dog the most common problem is periodontal disease. Tartar builds up and causes irritation of the gums around the base of the teeth. The resulting inflammation is gingivitis. The gums ultimately recede exposing the roots which leads to infection and ultimately tooth loss.
Cats mostly get dental cavities (caries) this can be very painful.
Isn’t it correct that dogs that eat dry dog food don’t have tartar build-up?
Dry food as well as canine chews and other gnawing toys do reduce the amount of tartar accumulating on the teeth, probably due to the mechanical abrasive action. However once tartar has formed, professional cleaning under a general anaesthetic is necessary in order to remove it.
One of the main factors determining the amount of tartar build-up is the individual chemistry in the mouth. Some dogs need yearly cleanings; other dogs need a cleaning only once every few years. Tartar is basically the result of a build up of invisible plaque on the teeth just as with us and dental home care, i.e. getting your dog used to having his teeth brushed regularly or chewing regularly, does cut down on plaque formation and hence tartar accumulation. This will result in less dental problems.
How do I know if my pet has dental problems?
Flip your pets lip and look at their teeth. Plaque is a bacterial coating that forms on the teeth within a few hours of eating. It is a yellowish white deposit. Within 24 hours it hardens to form yellowish brown tartar. Look at each tooth of the top and bottom jaw. Any brown colour is undesirable. If gums are red, inflamed or bleeding there is gingivitis. Smell your pet’s breath – it should not be foul (halitosis). Look for any dribbling (excessive saliva formation), rubbing mouth on ground or with paws or any difficulty eating (particularly hard foods).
Two thirds of teeth are below the gum line in the bone of the jaw, so you can’t see all dental problems, often x-rays are needed.
Does dental disease affect my pet’s health?
Bacteria and toxins from tartar and plaque irritate the gums (gingiva) and are absorbed into the blood and spread to organs in the body – most importantly the heart, liver and kidneys. Also tartar and plaque cause local problems in the mouth causing tooth decay, tooth root abscesses and periodontal disease.
How can I prevent tartar and dental problems?
- Feed your pet a raw bone with attached meat and connective tissue at least once a week. Eg. Shank, chicken neck, chicken wings and brisket bones. This should be under your supervision. Choose types of bones that your dog needs to chew and not swallow whole. NEVER feed cooked bones.
Feed your pet a commercial diet specifically formulated to reduce tartar. These dry foods contain fibres that scrape the plaque off the teeth without damaging the enamel. Eg. Hills Oral Care or Hills T/D food.
Encourage chewing of pigs ears or Greenies or dental chew toys. Dogs who chew have far less problems
with tartar. Veggie ears have less fat than pig ears if your pet is watching their waist line.
- Tooth brushing – this is not easy to do and not appreciated by most pets. It is best started when your pet is young. Use special pet toothpaste from your vet. You may want to try first with gauze wrapped around your finger and gently rub the teeth. Brush only the outside (buccal) surface of the teeth. The inner (lingual) surface of pet’s teeth does not suffer from calculus/tartar build up in the same way as our teeth do because pet’s tongues are a lot more mobile than ours. When you pet tolerates your finger wrapped in gauze next proceed to a toothbrush which fits over the end of your finger or a soft bristle toothbrush.
Please be aware not all pets will tolerate tooth brushing and other options may work better for you. Please do not use human toothpaste as these foam and are not meant to be swallowed and your dog will hate it.
- Use a mouthwash that is added to the drinking water eg Aquadent. This product reduces the amount of bacteria in the mouth so no unpleasant breath and reduces plaque. There are also gels (eg Oravet) that can be applied to your pet’s teeth weekly.
Regular (yearly) assessment of teeth by your vet. Scaling and polishing teeth under an anaesthetic every year (or as needed) is very beneficial for most pets. This minimises damage to the gums and tooth roots and Saves teeth.
What does tartar do to the teeth?
If tartar is allowed to remain on the teeth, several things may happen. The tartar will mechanically push the gums away from the roots of the teeth. This allows the teeth to loosen in their sockets and infection to enter the root socket. The teeth will loosen and fall out or have to be extracted. Infection will accumulate in the mouth, resulting in gingivitis, tonsillitis, and pharyngitis (sore throat). Although antibiotics may temporarily suppress the infection, if the tartar is not removed from the teeth, infection will return quickly.
Infection within the mouth will be picked up by the blood stream and carried to other parts of the body. Some kidney and heart disease may be caused by this infection.
What is involved in cleaning my dog’s teeth?
Proper cleaning of the teeth requires complete co-operation of the patient so plaque and tartar can be removed properly. For the dog, general anaesthesia is required to thoroughly clean the teeth. Although anaesthesia always carries a degree of risk, the modern drugs in use in practice today minimise this risk, even for older dogs. Depending on your dog’s age and general health status, your veterinary surgeon may advise a prior blood test to evaluate liver and kidney function and general health status of the patient.
There are four steps in the cleaning process that will be used on your dog:
Scaling removes the tartar above and below the gum line. This is done with hand instruments and ultrasonic cleaning equipment.
Polishing smoothes the surface of the teeth, making them resistant to additional plaque formation.
Flushing removes dislodged tartar from the teeth and helps to remove the bacteria that accompany tartar.
Fluoride coating decreases teeth sensitivity, strengthens enamel, and decreases the rate of future plaque formation.
X rays of teeth may be needed to assess the tooth rots. Often teeth will need to be removed if the tooth’s roots are infected. Most people are surprised how much happier their pet is after a painful tooth has been removed
What type of scheduling is needed for teeth cleaning?
An appointment will be necessary and your pet will stay in hospital for the day. Please do not feed your pet for approximately eight hours before the procedure. Fluids with the exception of water should also be withheld. Make an appointment with your veterinary surgeon and be sure to attend as requested or to telephone if for any reason the appointment has to be cancelled.
On collection you may be asked to return after a few days to check that all is well, particularly if any extractions have been carried out. Advice regarding dental prophylaxis, brushing, cleaning and use of anti-plaque products etc. may be given.