Advice from VCA Animal Hospitals:

Dental disease is one of the most common medical conditions seen by veterinarians. Over 68% of all dogs over the age of three are estimated to have some form of periodontal or dental disease. Few pets show obvious signs of dental disease. It is up to the pet’s family and veterinarian to uncover this hidden and often painful condition.

Unlike their human counterparts, tooth decay represents less than 10% of all dental problems. Periodontal disease, the most common disease affecting our pet dogs, is a term used to describe inflammation or infection of the tissues surrounding the tooth. Accumulation of tartar and calculus on the teeth causes gum recession around the base of the tooth where, left untreated, the infection spreads deep into the tooth socket, destroying the bone and ultimately causing the tooth to loosen and fall out.

The mouth is home to thousands of bacteria which multiply on the surfaces of the tooth forming an invisible layer called plaque. Some of this plaque is removed naturally by the dog’s tongue and chewing habits, but if allowed to remain on the tooth surface, the plaque thickens and becomes mineralized causing inflammation, also known as gingivitis, and the bacteria can also be absorbed into the blood stream and be carried to other organs. Untreated, “Bad teeth” can cause infections in the heart valves, kidneys and/or liver.

How do I protect my dog’s teeth?

The best way to prevent tartar build-up is regular home care, particularly tooth brushing using toothpaste that is specifically designed to be swallowed. Special dog chew toys and treats may help reduce or delay tartar build-up. Some pet foods have been specifically formulated as dental diets that mechanically assist in plaque removal.

Never use human toothpaste

  • Many human toothpastes and other oral hygiene products contain xylitol, a sugar substitute that is safe for use in humans but highly toxic in dogs that are not intended to be swallowed and that could cause internal problems if they are swallowed.
  • Also avoid using baking soda which, if swallowed, can upset the acid balance in the stomach and digestive tract. In addition, baking soda does not taste very good, and may cause your dog to be uncooperative when you try to brush its teeth.
  • Numerous pet toothpastes that are non-foaming and safe to be swallowed are available in flavors that are appealing to dogs; depending on the brand, you may be able to find flavors such as poultry, beef, malt or mint. If you use a product that tastes good, your pet will be more likely to enjoy the whole experience. In addition to the pleasant taste, many of these doggy toothpastes contain enzymes that are designed to help break down plaque chemically, thus reducing the time you need to spend actually brushing your dog’s teeth.

Be aware, once tartar has formed, it will be necessary to remove it by professional scaling and polishing under general anesthesia.

A routine dental cleaning involves a thorough dental examination, followed by a dental scaling and polishing to remove the tartar and invisible plaque from all of the tooth surfaces. Your veterinarian will perform pre-anesthetic blood tests to ensure that kidney and liver function are satisfactory for anesthesia. Sometimes antibiotic treatment is started before the periodontal therapy is performed. Your VCA veterinarian will discuss the specific pre-dental recommendations for your pet before your pet’s dental cleaning. Since it can be difficult to predict the extent of dental disease in advance of the procedure, it is imperative that your veterinarian is able to reach you during the procedure to discuss any additional treatment that may be necessary.

Why can’t I just remove the tartar and plaque with a dental scaler?

Although you can remove the tartar that has accumulated above the gumline in some dogs that are extremely co-operative, there are three problems with doing this.

  • Only the tartar above the gumline is removed, leaving behind the material below the gumline, which will continue to cause periodontal problems.
  • It is not possible or safe to clean the inner surfaces of the teeth properly in a conscious dog.
  • The use of any instrument on the tooth enamel will cause microscopic scratches on the surface, ultimately damaging the tooth surface and leading to further disease. (This is the reason why your dental hygienist always polishes your teeth after removing the tartar with dental instruments).

For a dental scaling and polishing, please schedule an appointment with your local VCA veterinarian who will perform pre-anesthetic blood tests, examine your pet for any other underlying disorders prior to the procedure, and determine if antibiotic treatment should be started in advance. Once treated, your vet will provide you with detailed instructions on how to brush or rinse your pet’s teeth.

Stay happy and healthy!

– VCA Animal Hospitals