Dog Dental Care: An Introduction
The good news is that cavities are rare in dogs. The really bad news is that more than 80 percent of dogs over the age of three have gum disease, and among dogs adopted from shelters and rescue groups the percentage is closer to one hundred.
Even young dogs who have had poor care often have gum disease, broken or missing teeth, and other oral problems. Your adopted dog may come to you needing dental care. At the very least, he could probably benefit from a professional dog teeth cleaning cleaning by your vet.
If he has other problems that need attention, they could be addressed at the same time. Although relatively expensive, regular professional dental care will make your dog feel better and keep his breath more pleasant for you to be near. Most important, good dental hygiene may prolong your dog’s life, because infected gums release bacteria into the bloodstream that can attack organs throughout the body.
What Happens During a Professional Dog Dental Cleaning
Most veterinarians recommend dental cleanings once per year, however, some breeds may require more frequent professional cleanings. When you bring your pet for a dental cleaning, the below is what you can expect.
- Your veterinarian will run pre-operative bloodwork to make sure your pet is healthy enough to undergo the anesthesia necessary for the procedure. While modern anesthesia is considered very safe, this is a precautionary measure to minimize any risks.
- Your veterinarian might take dental radiographs (X-rays) to provide a better evaluation of the health of your pet’s teeth and jaw bone.
- During the cleaning, the veterinary team will monitor your pet’s vital signs to ensure that they are normal. These vitals include respiration rate, heart rate, blood oxygen levels and body temperature.
- Your pet’s teeth will be cleaned and polished with professional equipment that smoothes the tooth surface, removes tartar and plaque and polishes the teeth.
- Antibitoics and/or pain medications may be prescribed depending on the extent of disease at the time of cleaning.
Once the dental cleaning is complete, your pet will be carefully brought out of anesthesia. Your veterinarian will ensure that your pet has recovered properly before releasing him or her to go home. Follow all home care instructions and be sure to check with your veterinarian immediately if you have any concerns.
Caring for Your Dog’s Teeth at Home
There’s more to doggy dental care than vet visits. Between professional cleanings, bacteria cluster along your dog’s gum line. The bacteria form plaque, which hardens into tartar (calculus) if it’s not removed.
Tartar irritates the gums, causing gingivitis and periodontal (gum) disease characterized by abscesses, infections, and tooth and bone loss. To prevent or slow this destructive process, you need to brush your dog’s teeth.
Ideally, you should brush them every day, but every two or three days will go a long way toward preventing gum disease. Use toothpaste made for dogs — toothpaste for people can make your dog sick if he swallows it — and apply it with a brush designed for dogs, or a finger brush, or a small disposable dental sponge, whichever you find easiest.
Keep an eye out for signs of oral problems, including red, puffy gums; sudden or prolonged and copious drooling; swelling or lumps; ulcers and sores on the lips, gums, tongue, or other oral tissues; tenderness around the mouth; damaged teeth or tissues; inability to eat, or obvious discomfort when doing so; and foul breath. The sooner you catch a problem and bring it to your vet’s attention, the better for your dog and, probably, your wallet.
In addition to a good dental care regimen, you can help keep your dog’s mouth and teeth healthy by feeding him high-quality food, and by providing him with safe chew toys that help clean his teeth and gums.
The more you can do to remove plaque and tartar from your dog’s teeth between veterinary visits, the less frequently your dog will need to undergo a veterinary dental treatment. Since the procedure involves anesthesia — which is never without some risk — and can be costly, it’s in your and your dog’s best interests to follow a regular dental health regime at home.
Prevention and Nutritional Maintenance
Whether you own a cat or a dog, dry, crunchy foods can be helpful in keeping teeth clean. As your dog or cat chews, particles from the dry food scrape across the teeth, acting like a toothbrush to help remove plaque. If you feed your pet wet food, try adding some dry food to the menu at least a few times a week.
While February is National Pet Dental Health Month, dental health is important all year round. With a little effort and special attention, you’ll be on your way to forming good habits with your dog or cat that promote healthy oral hygiene for years to come.