One of my resolutions this year is to do a better job taking care of Baxter’s teeth.
February's Pet Dental Month is the perfect excuse to investigate doggie dental care more closely and get a better understanding of why it’s so important.
A long-time friend of mine, Laurie Stevenson, is a registered veterinary technician at our clinic, Clappison Animal Hospital.
Below, she and my favourite vet, Dr. Stephen Longridge, explain how to take care of your dog’s oral health.
Julia Thomson: The newsletter I recently received from the clinic says “A pet's mouth is the gateway to their overall health.” How so?
Laurie Stevenson and Dr. Stephen Longridge: As with people, dental health care is a key element in the overall well-being of our pets. A diseased mouth can lead to disease in other areas of the animal's body.
A healthy mouth enables the animal to eat a healthy diet free of pain, prevents infection from entering the blood stream and can prolong your pet’s life. It’s about both the quality and length of your pet’s life.
JT: What can you tell from looking at a dog’s mouth?
LS & Dr. SL: When examining an animal's mouth we are looking at the teeth, gums, lips, tongue—everything in the mouth. We also take note of areas surrounding the oral cavity including the eyes.
We note the colour and wear of the teeth and gums, any abnormal pigmentation, gum erosion, and tartar or calculus (the really hard debris on an animal's teeth) build up.
Also, we can tell what the animal has been chewing and whether or not they chew more on one side than the other. If one side is used more it may indicate areas of pain or teeth that are loose.
JT: What are common issues you see?
LS & Dr. SL: Loose teeth due to gum recession are very common. Deep pockets around the teeth (gum recession) allow bacteria to grow which in turn leads to infection around the tooth as well as pain and inflammation. The roots of the teeth can become exposed leading to pain, infection and loose teeth. The jaw bone can actually begin to erode due to infection.
JT: Why is it important to get regular checkups that include dental checks?
LS & Dr. SL: If problems are caught before they get too bad then the animal's teeth can be saved and money can be saved as well. It's much better (and cheaper) to prevent problems than it is to fix them once they have occurred.
If dental disease progresses too far, it can lead to more severe diseases, in turn leading to a shorter overall lifespan.
JT: How does tooth care prevent other diseases?
LS & Dr. SL: A diseased mouth allows infection to enter the animal’s blood stream and harm organs. Usually, bacteria do not lead to infection or abscesses in other organs, but they create constant wear and tear on the body. In some cases bacteria may enter the animal’s blood stream causing a systemic infection. This infection can enter other organs causing heart, kidney or liver failure.
JT: What’s the best way to take care of your dog’s teeth?
LS & Dr. SL: The best way to take care of your dog’s teeth (and cat) is to brush daily. This can be very difficult of course, so as much brushing as possible is best.
If you cannot brush on a daily basis, the next best thing is to use chew treats such as CET chews which are specifically made to rub against the pet’s teeth as they chew and thus get rid of tartar. These chews also contain an enzyme which mixes with the dog’s saliva and aids in killing the bacteria in the mouth which causes tartar.
A specific dental diet may also be a good choice. The kibbles are formulated to brush up against the animal’s teeth which chewing. They are also larger kibbles and need to be chewed more than normal kibbles
Finally, additives can be added to your dog’s drinking water. They are similar to mouthwash for humans and aid in killing bacteria.
All these methods can be undertaken to prevent tartar build up which in turn leads to calculus.
JT: What’s involved in a professional dental cleaning?
LS & Dr. SL: A professional dental cleaning is very similar to human dental cleaning. The biggest difference for animals is that they must be under general anesthetic.
The animal is sedated, placed on IV fluids, then put under general anesthetic. A technician begins by cracking off the large pieces of calculus. The teeth are thoroughly examined on all sides and each tooth is individually charted.
Defects such as cavities, fractures, pulp exposure, wearing are all noted. The gums are examined around each tooth for deep pockets where infections start. The entire mouth is examined in detail.
Next an ultrasonic scaler is used to remove all calculus and tartar from the exposed parts of the teeth. Any loose teeth or teeth with exposed roots and bifurcations are noted. A curette is used to clean beneath the gums to remove tartar from under the gum line.
Next the veterinarian examines the mouth and determines if any teeth need to be removed. X-rays may be taken—to be sure of tooth health full mouth dental x-rays should be taken. It is impossible to see what is going on underneath the gums otherwise and problems may go undetected.
The vet will then extract any teeth using elevators. This is the most time consuming part of the dental procedure. Any lumps or abnormal tissue growth are also removed at this time. For large teeth that are removed the gums will be sutured together to aid in healing. An oral rinse helps clean the mouth and kill bacteria. If many teeth are removed the pet may be placed on antibiotics for a time after the procedure.
Once all the extractions are completed and the teeth have been cleaned (scaled), the teeth are polished. Once this has been done the animal is cleaned up and the mouth is rinsed.
The pet is now woken up and recovered before going home at the end of the day.
JT: What’s the most important thing people should realize about dental care for their dogs?
LS & Dr. SL: No matter the breed or diet, each and every dog should have their teeth closely monitored and properly taken care of. Brushing is the best way! Dental care is not just for humans. A healthy mouth means a healthy pet overall and can help them lead a longer and happier life with fewer health issues.
As for the rest of you …
Do the rest of you get regular dental check-ups? How do you take care of your dog’s teeth?
Let us know in the comments!
Julia Thomson is a regular writer for That Mutt. Visit her blog Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating.
How to get a dog used to nail trims (similar approach could be used for teeth brushing)