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Pet Health


Dental Care for Dogs

Every February at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, we recognize Pet Dental Care Month, but we have never really talked about…

Why is Canine Dental Care Important?

Every February at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, we recognize Pet Dental Care Month, but we have never really talked about it. We have all been told that good dental hygiene is important for our dog, but then we start questioning that advice as we think about the old dog we grew up with and how he never went to the vet aside from vaccinations – and his teeth were okay, right? This morning as I am loving on Rex, while trying to avoid his bad breath, I decided it was time to look into dog dental health.

Rex was adopted as an adult. His teeth were pretty nasty looking when we brought him home, so one of the first things we did was get them cleaned by our veterinarian. He had 11 bad teeth removed during the procedure. Our veterinarian said that some of the roots were so abscessed that they were “mushy”. Poor boy… he must have been in pain. He recovered well – with plenty of teeth left to enjoy his food. But a year later, my veterinarian said, “It’s time for Rex to have a dental.” What? He just had one a year ago! Do we really need to go down that path again?

I have so many questions… If my dog’s teeth look good, does he still have to have them cleaned time and time again? Do all dogs have bad breath? Do I really have to brush my dog’s teeth daily? How often should I get my dog’s teeth cleaned by the Vet? Is bad breath an indication of dental problems? Can my dog get gingivitis or periodontal disease?

Let’s see if we can come up with some answers.

What does a healthy mouth look like in our dogs?

Let’s start by doing a healthy mouth check. Go ahead… gently pry open your dog’s mouth (I know… they hate that). Start by looking at your dog’s teeth. They should have little, if any, visible plaque or tarter. Plaque and tartar will present as a yellow or brownish discoloration. Check to make sure none of the teeth are broken (that happens a lot with our chewing frenzied pups). Then run your finger over the teeth to make sure they are not wiggly or loose. Your dog’s tongue and gums should be a nice pink color, not pale or overly red. Keep in mind though, that some breeds have black gums naturally, so don’t be alarmed. There should be no swelling or lumps. Their breath probably won’t smell like roses, but it shouldn’t knock you down either.

What if you notice a problem when checking your dog’s mouth?

Plaque and Tarter

Let’s say you’re doing your healthy mouth check and you see a pretty good buildup of plaque and/or tartar in your pup’s mouth. Well, plaque is nothing more than a buildup of bacteria. Bacteria is bad stuff. If it is not removed, it can cause gum disease. It becomes an even worse problem if plaque is left on the teeth for a prolonged period of time. If you saw plaque and tartar on your own teeth, what would you do? That’s right… you would call your dentist and set up a cleaning. But do we really have to do that with our dog? Well, read on…

Cracked and broken teeth

What if you see a cracked or broken tooth while doing your healthy mouth check? But, you say, my dog doesn’t act like it’s bothering him so it’s no big deal. No, they probably won’t act like it hurts. It’s just not in our dog’s DNA to show pain or discomfort. Chances are, the broken or cracked tooth is causing some discomfort for your dog. If not, it is still a problem. A big problem. When there is a broken or fractured tooth, the underlying structure of the tooth is exposed allowing bacteria to seep in. Once bacteria makes its way in, the tissue becomes inflamed, and eventually, the tooth dies. But that’s not the end of it…

When a tooth dies, that nasty bacteria seeps out of the bottom of the root and contaminates the surrounding bone, resulting in periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is an infection that continues to accumulate pus (an abscess) and leak into the oral cavity. Are you grossed out yet? I am…

An abscessed tooth, which is nothing more than an advanced form of an infected tooth, is very painful, but, again, our brave pups are not likely to let us know that they are in pain. Instead, you may notice they are not as enthusiastic about their chew bones as they were before. Or maybe they struggle a bit when eating – or may not eat at all. They may even pull back as you try to pet their sweet little face.

Pale or red gums

As we mentioned, a dog’s gums should be pink – slightly pale pink to Pepto-Bismol-pink. Canine gums should never be very pale nor very pink, nor greyish, or red. Pale gums could indicate anemia. Bright red gums are normally a sign of inflammation and could mean gingivitis. If gums are greyish or blue-ish, that could indicate a lack of oxygen or other health problems. Bleeding gums are definitely a red flag. Although abnormalities in gum color may not always indicate a dental health problem, it is always something that should be brought to your veterinarian’s attention.

Do I really have to brush my dog’s teeth every day?

Well, let’s look at it this way. We just talked about plaque and what nasty stuff it is. And the only way to get rid of it is brushing. So, yeah… it’s kind of important to brush your dog’s teeth. BUT (here we go…), dental health varies in dogs just as it does in people. What do I mean by that? Read on…

My stepfather never went to the dentist his whole life until he met my Mom and she made him go for a checkup. He had the most beautiful teeth. At his very first dental appointment, the dentist found his teeth to be in excellent condition, no problems, very little buildup. How is that even possible? Mouths are unique to individual people as well as pets. We all form plaque at different rates based on genetics, our diet, tooth anatomy, the amount of saliva we have, and so on. While some people can’t go 6 months without significant plaque buildup, my stepfather went his whole life! The same is to be said for dogs. Their mouth health is as unique as they are. The amount of maintenance they need (or how often you should brush your dog’s teeth) will vary among dogs, and even breeds.

Are some dogs more prone to bad dental health?

There are certain breeds of dogs that are more prone to specific dental disease than others, i.e., periodontal disease and/or gingivitis. Overall, smaller dogs are more likely to have dental disease, probably because there are just too many teeth in those little mouths! Some of the smaller breeds most susceptible to dental disease are Yorkies, Pugs, Shelties, Chihuahuas, Cavalier King Charles, Dachshunds, Maltese, Poodles, Shih Tzu’s, and Chinese crested. Larger breeds with mentionable dental health problems are Greyhounds, Great Danes, Mastiffs, Collies, and Boxers. Labs and Shepherds generally have healthy teeth but tend to break or fracture teeth more often.

How does poor hygiene affect overall health?

Poor oral hygiene is linked to many other health problems beyond periodontal disease and gingivitis. The problem occurs when bacterial fragments from a buildup of plaque are regularly being swallowed. Yuck. In addition to digestive problems which may occur, the swallowed plaque provokes the dog’s immune system and inflammatory response. Dogs’ hearts and livers are particularly sensitive to developing inflammation from dental disease. Dental disease can potentially affect many of your dog’s major organs. That’s scary, isn’t it?

What about the bones and crunchy food argument?

You know what I’m talking about… “Old timers” will say, “my dog doesn’t need his teeth cleaned… he chews bones and eats hard kibble to keep his teeth in good shape…” Have you heard that before? Is there any truth in it? Sure, hard kibble can help remove plaque from the surface of a dog’s teeth. Also, some bones are mildly abrasive and can help remove plaque. But the problem is below the gum-line, where kibble and hard bones do not reach. Brushing alone will not remove problems below the gum-line like a regular veterinary cleaning will.

I should mention here that raw meat enthusiasts say that the enzymes in raw meat break down food matter on the teeth. Also, since raw meats contain bones, they act as an abrasive to help keep tarter off. Interesting, huh?

Realistically, how often should I brush my dog’s teeth?

Many veterinarians say to brush your dog’s teeth daily – some as often as twice a day. Reasonably, 3 times a week is the minimum recommendation. Since Rex had such a bad start to good dental care, I try to brush his teeth every night before bed – just after brushing my own teeth. I use an enzymatic toothpaste that pretty much does the work for me. Introducing enzymes into your dog’s mouth begins the process of destroying bacteria before you even begin brushing. Rex still doesn’t like it when I raise up his gums to work on his teeth, but he tolerates it because he loves his toothpaste! He thinks it’s a treat!

Dog toothpaste comes in a variety of flavors. It sounds disgusting, but some are meat flavored. What is impressive is that you can brush your dog’s teeth with beef flavored toothpaste and somehow, it makes their breath smell good – not meaty! Never use “people” toothpaste as they can be toxic to dogs.

There are several different kinds of toothbrushes specifically for dogs. Finger brushes are little caps you put over your finger with tiny brushes on the side. They work because a dog will often accept your finger in their mouth before a “stick” of some kind. There are brushes with multiple heads – so you can brush the inside and outside surface of the teeth at the same time. You can even get chew toys with brushes inside. Add a yummy flavored toothpaste to the brushes, and your dog will think it’s the best thing ever. I just use a regular ole toothbrush with a smaller head to fit inside of Rex’s tiny mouth.

Do dental rinses help?

There are several different kinds of dental rinses for dogs. One that I have used is a water additive. I was afraid that it would alter the taste of Rex’s water and make it unappealing, but he hasn’t noticed the difference. There are also rinses that you squirt directly into your dog’s mouth. Both types of dental rinses have anti-bacterial properties. They are a good choice, especially if you have a hard time thoroughly brushing your dog’s teeth.

How often should I get my dog’s teeth cleaned by the Veterinarian?

Statistics show that periodontal disease occurs five times as often in pets as it does in people. In fact, 80% of dogs over the age of 3 have periodontal disease. Can you believe it? Generally, a dog should have a cleaning – to include an oral exam and x-rays – once a year. Dogs/breeds prone to dental disease may need cleaning more often. As we have discussed, it depends on the individual dog, and frankly, how well you care for their teeth at home.

Final thoughts

I am sure I speak for you as well when I say I want my dog to have the best care. I don’t want to be the doggie mom whose dog is suffering because of my lack of medical attention. He means too much to me. I hope we have answered many of your questions about dental care for your dog. I think that any effort made to making Rex healthier and happier is a good thing. But here’s the kicker: Pets with regular dental care can live up to 2 years longer? That seals the deal for me… I want to keep my little man around as long as possible!

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