I was unaware that dogs have dental problems. Is it common?
    Dental disease is the most common disease in dogs and cats. Over 80% of all pets over the age of three have some form of periodontal or dental disease. Most pets will show few signs of dental disease. It is up to the pet’s family and veterinarian to uncover this hidden and often painful condition.

    Are dental problems the same in pets and people?
    No. In man the most common problem is tooth decay which, due to the loss of calcium from the enamel, results in painful, infected cavities. In the dog tooth decay represents less than 10% of all dental problems, and cavities are rare. The most common dental problems seen in dogs are caused by periodontal disease and fractured teeth (often from playing or chewing on hard objects).

    canine dental diseaseWhat is periodontal disease?
    Periodontal disease is a term used to describe inflammation or infection of the tissues surrounding the tooth. Accumulation of tartar and calculus on the teeth contributes to gum recession around the base of the tooth. Infection soon follows and the gums continue to recede, exposing sensitive unprotected tooth surfaces. Untreated damage then spreads into the tooth socket and ultimately the tooth loosens and is lost. Unfortunately, however, this is a slow and painful process.

    Is periodontal disease very common?
    It is estimated that over 80% of dogs over three years old suffer from some degree of periodontitis, making it by far the most common canine disease.

    What is tartar and can it be prevented?
    The mouth of all mammals is home to thousands of bacteria. Many of these bacteria will breed on the surfaces of the tooth and form an invisible layer called plaque or biofilm. Some of this is removed naturally by the dog’s tongue and chewing habits but if allowed to remain on the tooth surface, the plaque thickens, becomes mineralized and is then visible as tartar and ultimately calculus. The tartar presses on the gums, which recede, causing inflammation (with or without infection) called gingivitis. The gums continue to recede until ultimately the tooth socket is infected and the tooth is lost.

    As the oral disease worsens, tonsillitis and pharyngitis can also occur. In addition, the bacteria are absorbed into the blood stream and can be carried to other organs. Heart valve infections (endocarditis), kidney, lung, and liver problems are potentially caused by dental disease. In addition, if certain medical problems are already present, dental disease can make them worse, or cause additional complications.

    Can tartar be prevented?
    Plaque becomes mineralized in some dogs much quicker than in others. Special canine chew toys as well as feeding specifically-formulated dental diets may help reduce tartar build up, as does regular home care such as tooth brushing. Today there are many products designed to reduce tartar in our dogs.
    There are several specific “oral care” diets available. However, the most effective diet in helping to keep the teeth clean is a prescription diet available from your veterinarian, called “Prescription Diet t/d.”

    Will feeding dry food remove tartar?
    Once tartar has formed it will be necessary to remove it by professional scaling and polishing under anesthesia.

    What is involved with a dental cleaning for my dog?
    The goal of dental scaling and polishing is to remove the tartar and invisible plaque. Your veterinarian will perform pre-anesthetic blood tests to ensure that organ functions are satisfactory for anesthesia. Under some circumstances, additional test might be recommended, such as chest x-rays, ECG, or urinalysis. Sometimes antibiotic treatment is instituted before a dental procedure is performed. Your veterinarian will discuss the specific pre-dental recommendations for your pet.

    Tooth scaling will be performed using both hand scalers and ultrasonic cleaning equipment to remove tartar both above and below the gum line. The tartar beneath the gum line causes the most significant gum disease. The teeth are then polished in order to help reduce the rate of subsequent plaque build-up. It may be necessary to carry out other procedures such as extractions at the same time. Special applications such as fluoride, antibiotic preparations and cleaning compounds may be indicated to decrease tooth sensitivity, strengthen enamel and reduce plaque accumulation and bacterial infection.

    These procedures will be fully discussed both before your pet’s dental cleaning and when you bring your pet in for the procedure. 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.

    Do I have to make an appointment for my dog to have a dental scaling and polishing?
    Yes. Your veterinarian will perform pre-anesthetic tests, examine your pet for any other underlying disorders prior to the procedure, and determine if antibiotic treatment should be started in advance.

    How can I prevent tartar accumulation after the procedure?
    Plaque begins forming in as little as six hours after your pet’s dental cleaning, and tartar can start to form in as little as 2 weeks after a dental cleaning. A home dental care program is a must for all pets. Your veterinarian will provide you with detailed instructions on how to brush or rinse your pet’s teeth.
    The most effective way of reducing plaque and tartar is to brush the teeth. There are toothpaste and brushes available from your veterinarian that are specially designed for a dog’s mouth. With gentleness, patience and perseverance it is possible to regularly clean many dogs’ teeth in this way. The best time to get your dog used to tooth brushing is when it is a puppy. You can start by gently touching and massaging the gums with your finger, when he/she is in a calm, quiet mood. After your puppy accepts this, you can switch over to using the toothbrush with no paste, and eventually introduce the toothpaste. In addition, or as an alternative if the dog will not accept brushing, a range of chews (Greenies or CET chews), antibacterial mouthwashes (Biotene) and gels (Maxiguard or Biotene) can be applied to the teeth and mouth to reduce the number of bacteria present, and increase oral health. Please ask your veterinarian for further details regarding available dental products for your dog.

    Can I use human toothpaste?
    Human dentifrice or toothpaste should not be used in dogs. These are foaming products and are not meant to be swallowed. Additionally, many types of human toothpaste contain sodium or fluoride, which may cause problems in some pets.

    This client information sheet is based on material written by Ernest Ward, DVM.
    © Copyright 2005 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license.
    Modified April 14, 2010.

    Additional information and handouts can be found online at the web sites of:
    The American Veterinary Dental Society – http://www.avds-online.org/resources.htm
    The American Veterinary Dental College – http://www.avdc.org/?q=node/2
    Veterinary Partner web site – http://www.veterinarypartner.com
    Veterinary Oral Health Council – http://www.vohc.org