Dental Care in Dogs

Behold the humble finger brush. (By: karelnoppe)

People who practice good dental care with their dog will reap many benefits in the long run.

Typical Problems

The most common cause of bad breath in dogs is excessive calculus and plaque deposits on the teeth. Bacteria live and feed in the plaque and produce gum and bone infection, pain, and bad breath.

Calculus is a crusty collection of food particles, minerals, and bacteria that forms at the teeth-gum borders.

Plaque formation eventually leads to gum disease, mouth odors, receding gums, and bone destruction and infection. The rate at which plaque forms in your dog’s mouth is mainly due to genetic predisposition, but it can be slowed by daily oral hygiene using antiplaque liquid or gel and/or pastes, as well as regular professional cleaning and polishing.

Pyorrhea (inflamed and infected gums) of the teeth is often the cause of kidney infections and endocarditis in older dogs. The pressure on the gums and infection of the teeth is quite painful to your dog.

In this video, Dr. Judy Morgan, DVM, talks more about plaque and the importance of dental care in dogs:

Preventing Dental Problems

You can apply an antiplaque liquid or gel, such as Chlorhexidine (affiliate link) to the gum tissue with a cotton ball or swab.

As an alternative, use a soft bristle toothbrush or finger brush with a non-foaming enzymatic toothpaste manufactured for dogs.

Treatments should be done daily or at least every other day, depending on the current problems. Only a few areas are particularly susceptible to plaque and calculus formation. The areas of greatest concern are the canines and upper back molars (side facing cheeks).

Chlorhexidine penetrates gum tissue and prevents bacterial growth, plaque buildup, gingivitis, and bad breath. In addition to the canines and molars, look at the front incisor teeth and brush away any accumulation of hair and food at the gum line if present.

In order for the veterinarian to remove existing calculus deposits, your dog will require short general anesthesia and the teeth will be cleaned with dental instruments along with an ultrasonic machine that vibrates the calculus off the surface of the teeth. Calculus from under the gum tissue is carefully removed using a hand scaler. Finally, the teeth are polished to reduce purchase for new deposits. This can often be done when the dog is under anesthetic for other reasons, such as neutering.

Cavities, Etc.

Dogs do not commonly get cavities. When cavities do occur, they are more often at the root of the tooth rather than at the crown.

Cavities can lead to root abscesses. Abscessed roots often cause a swelling just below the animal’s eye. Generally, tooth extractions are needed at this point.

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