Here are some common questions asked about pet dental health:
Q: I’ve heard dental problems are common in dogs. How will I know if my dog has a dental problem?
A: Dental disease is the most common disease in dogs. About 70% of dogs over the age of 3 are affected with dental disease. Check for redness or bleeding at the gum line, as well as tartar accumulation on the teeth. Also look out for signs of discomfort or foul smelling breath. If any of these symptoms are noticed, contact your veterinarian for a dental check-up.
Q: What is tartar and why is it so bad?
A: Bacteria naturally inhabit yours and your pet’s mouths. If allowed, it will breed on the surface of teeth to form an invisible layer of plaque. Plaque accumulation will eventually mineralize and thicken around the base of the tooth at the gum line and become visible tartar. Tartar begins to irritate the gums, causing inflammation known as gingivitis. If not removed, this process will continue and gums will become even more inflamed, leading to infection known as periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is a serious condition which can lead to gum recession and eventually loss of teeth. Infections from periodontal disease can spread to other parts of the mouth, as well as internal organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys.
Q: What can I expect when I bring my dog in for a dental exam and cleaning?
A: A dental exam will include examination of the mouth, teeth, and gums, as well as a full physical examination to rule out any underlying health issues. If it is determined your pet would benefit from having tartar and plaque removed, your veterinarian will perform a dental cleansing and polishing. Plaque and tartar can only be removed by those specially trained and is performed under anesthesia. Blood work is needed to determine adequate liver and kidney function to ensure that anesthesia can be given safely during a dental cleaning. It may also be determined that your dog be started on antibiotics prior to a dental cleaning. During the cleaning, careful attention is made to remove the tartar above and below the gum line. Gum recession can occur when tartar accumulates below the gum line. If a diseased or loose tooth is found, an extraction may be necessary. Fluoride applications may be given to strengthen tooth enamel, along with antibiotics given to treat any bacterial infection. In addition, polishing the teeth creates a smooth surface which deters bacteria from accumulating. Polishing is an important part of preventative care because plaque and tartar naturally begin to form on teeth in as little as 6 hours after a dental cleaning.
Q: What about special dental diets and treats?
A: Special dental diets can play a role in reducing the accumulation of plaque and tartar formation. There are veterinarian approved diets that have tartar reducing ingredients or have larger kibble which are textured to aid in plaque removal. In addition, there are also special canine chew toys and treats that have tartar controlling ingredients. Many products such as oral rinses and water additives are also available that cut down on bacteria or have plaque reducing enzymes. Your veterinarian can give you specific dietary and dental aid recommendations that will help guide you in your pet’s dental health program. Daily brushings are the best form of tartar prevention in between dental cleanings.
Q: How do I go about brushing my dog’s teeth?
A: As important as the cleaning and polishing is to remove hardened deposits on the teeth, the prevention of plaque build-up is just as important. A dental program should include daily brushings using a veterinarian approved toothpaste and toothbrush. This helps maintain good oral hygiene and prevent build-up of disease causing plaque and tartar. Be sure to choose toothpaste made for dogs, which comes in a variety of canine-friendly flavors. Human toothpaste should NEVER be given to your dog, as it may contain harmful ingredients.
When it comes to your dog's dental health, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
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