Dental Health in Dogs: Talking Teeth

Is your dog’s bad breath sabotaging your cuddle time?

Is your kitty drooling while nibbling her kibble? If so, your four-legged family member likely has dental disease. Banfield Pet Hospital’s 770-hospital network study identified dental disease as the most common malady among pets. It affects 68% of cats and 78% of dogs over three years of age.

Dental Health in Dogs: Talking Teeth

What causes dental disease?

Most dental diseases, including halitosis (bad breath) and gingivitis (gum disease), are caused by tartar accumulation.

All cats and dogs can develop dental tartar, but small breed dogs are particularly predisposed. According to the Banfield study, toy Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers, Maltese, Pomeranians, and Shetland Sheepdogs are at the greatest risk.

Inspect your dog’s teeth and gums on a regular basis just as you would his or her skin and haircoat.

Check your dog’s mouth

Here’s the key to getting a good look.

Don’t try to pry your dog’s jaws open lest you desire to engage in a wrestling match.  Rather, with the mouth remaining closed, pull those flabby lips up, down, and then back (as if he is smiling). That way, you get a good view of the gums and teeth.

How to check your dog’s teeth

Things to look for:

  • tartar accumulation (brown-colored material that’s adhered to the teeth)
  • redness or swelling of the gums, and
  • broken or loose teeth

If your dog does develop significant tartar and gingivitis, he’ll need a thorough dental cleaning.

Dental x-rays

Your veterinarian might recommend x-rays to detect abscesses or bone loss. Should they reveal such significant abnormalities, your vet will discuss antibiotic therapy and the pros and cons of removing the affected teeth versus a root canal procedure.

The best way to prevent tartar buildup is to brush your dog’s teeth (including those way in the back) at least two to three times a week.

Ask your vet or members of the clinic staff to share their secrets for success when it comes to brushing.  Have them observe and provide critique as you demonstrate how you brush those canines (in cats they should be called “felines”), incisors, and molars.

Dental disease prevention

What can you do besides brushing?

Dental chews, additives to your dog’s water, products applied to the teeth and gums, and specially formulated dry foods that have received the Veterinary Oral Health Council Seal of Acceptance can help prevent tartar buildup.  However, nothing beats regular brushing (sorry!).

How to brush your dog’s teeth
Teaching a dog to be comfortable with tooth brushing

Part of your dog’s annual physical examination performed by your veterinarian should include careful inspection of the teeth and gums.

Early identification and treatment of dental disease go a long way in preventing serious consequences.

Now it’s your turn to talk about teeth.  What have you experienced with your dog?

Related articles:
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Bad Breath (Halitosis)
Bad Breath in Dogs: When Bad Breath Can Kill!

Further reading:
The Financial Wisdom of Disease Prevention

Categories: Dental careDog careOral care

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Dr. Nancy Kay

Dr. Nancy Kay wanted to become a veterinarian for just about as long as she can remember. Her veterinary degree is from Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, and she completed her residency training in small animal internal medicine at the University of California-Davis Veterinary School. Dr. Kay is a board-certified specialist in the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and published in several professional journals and textbooks. She lectures professionally to regional and national audiences, and one of her favorite lecture topics is communication between veterinarians and their clients. Since the release of her book, Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life, Dr. Kay has lectured extensively and written numerous magazine articles on the topic of medical advocacy and veterinarian/client communication. She was a featured guest on the popular National Public Radio show, Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Dr. Kay's newest book is called, Your Dog's Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet. Her award-winning blog, "Spot Speaks" is posted weekly ( Dr. Kay was selected by the American Animal Hospital Association to receive the 2009 Hill�s Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award. This award is given annually to a veterinarian or nonveterinarian who has advanced animal welfare through extraordinary service or by furthering humane principles, education, and understanding. Dr. Kay was selected as the 2011 Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year, an award presented every year by the American Veterinary Medical Association to a veterinarian whose work exemplifies and promotes the human-animal bond. Dr. Kay has received several awards from the Dog Writer�s Association of America. Dr. Kay's personal life revolves around her husband (also a veterinarian), her three children (none of whom aspire to be veterinarians) and their menagerie of four-legged family members. When she's not writing, she spends her spare moments in the garden or riding atop her favorite horse. Dr. Kay and her husband reside in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

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