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Dental Care in Dogs

Description

The pet guardian is an integral part of our veterinary dental team. Home care is the single most important procedure the pet guardian can do to maintain oral health. If performed regularly, daily brushing will dramatically increase the interval between teeth cleaning appointments.

Plaque is an accumulation of bacteria and other substances that form a sticky film on the teeth and under the gumline. Plaque is being made constantly and deposited in the mouth. People have a buildup of plaque in the morning that makes their breath smell bad. Dogs build up plaque as well. Proper home care can keep plaque buildup under control. People brush their teeth several times daily to remove plaque; why not our pets?






A dog with plaque on his teeth

The goal of dental home care is to remove plaque from tooth surfaces and under the gumline before it mineralizes into calculus. Calculus is a hard material that accumulates around and on the teeth. Plaque is mineralized into calculus within days of a teeth cleaning. Success of dental care depends on the pet guardian's ability to brush the teeth daily, as well as the dog's acceptance of the process. True oral cleanliness can be achieved only through the mechanical action of toothbrush bristles above and below the gumline. Just as in people, removing plaque under the gumline can be difficult to achieve. The dog needs periodic professional dental cleanings to maintain healthy gums and teeth.







Pet guardians often ask, "doesn't hard food keep teeth clean?" Some pet guardians believe that when their dog chews on hard food or biscuits, mineral deposits are broken down and the teeth stay clean. This is not true. True, animals on soft diets accumulate plaque more readily than those on dry foods, but the only way to keep teeth clean above and below the gumline is by daily brushing.




Preventative Care Procedures: Dental Home Care for Dogs




Introduction

Home care is the single most important procedure the pet guardian can do to maintain oral health of his or her dog. If performed regularly, daily brushing will dramatically increase the interval between teeth cleaning appointments. Proper home care can keep plaque buildup under control. People brush their teeth several times daily to remove plaque—why not our pets?

Success of dental care depends on the pet guardian's ability to brush the teeth daily, as well as the dog's acceptance of the process. True oral cleanliness can be achieved only through the mechanical action of toothbrush bristles above and below the gumline. Just as in people, removing plaque under the gumline can be difficult to achieve. The dog needs periodic professional dental cleanings to maintain healthy gums and teeth.




Home Care

Start with a healthy, comfortable mouth. Ideally, start home care with puppies. In older dogs, untreated dental problems can cause pain, making it more difficult for the pet guardian to handle the mouth and to brush the teeth. Dental disease must be treated by a veterinarian before a home care program can be started in these dogs.

Choose a proper toothbrush and toothpaste. The size of toothbrush chosen is important. Toothbrushes are designed specially to fit into the various size and shape of canine mouths. Each dog must have his or her own toothbrush. Sharing toothbrushes may result in the spread (cross contamination) of bacteria from one pet to another. Toothbrushes have bristles that reach under the gumline and clean the space that surrounds each tooth. Plaque accumulates in this space. Devices such as gauze pads, sponge swabs, or cotton swabs remove plaque above the gumline, but cannot clean this space below the gumline adequately. Use toothpaste designed for animals. Although some animals like human toothpaste, it has foaming agents and higher fluoride levels than are necessary for the dog. In addition, human toothpaste is designed to be spit out and not to be swallowed.

Your veterinarian or veterinary staff member should show you how to properly use the toothbrush and toothpaste. Proper technique involves applying the bristles at a 45-degree angle to the gum. Use small circular motions around the outside of the teeth, being sure to get the bristles under the gumline. Brushing consistently below the gumline is difficult. It is not as important to brush the inside of the teeth, as most dogs do not have the buildup of tartar on the inside of their teeth as do people.

After the demonstration, the pet guardian should brush the dog's teeth so the veterinary team can help him or her with the technique. The pet guardian should introduce the toothpaste and toothbrush. When sensing that the dog is anxious about the brushing procedure, the pet guardian should give reassurance by talking to the dog and trying again. Brushing the dog's teeth takes practice at home as well. The dog is learning to accept the toothbrushing process. The pet guardian should expect progress not perfection. Progress should be rewarded immediately with a treat or a play period after each cleaning session. The pet guardian should expect to take time to teach the dog to accept teeth brushing. Each pet is different. Some dogs will be trained in a week while others will take a month or more. The payoff is well worth the learning curve.

The area under the gumline is the most important to keep clean. Plaque and tartar under the gumline lead to periodontal disease and loose teeth. The plaque and tartar underneath the gumline need to be removed by daily home care. Adding products to the drinking water or rubbing the teeth with dentifrice-impregnated pads may help in home care, but understand that periodontal disease begins under the gumline. Home care is most effective when the dentifrice (any product used in the cleaning of teeth, such as toothpaste or tooth powder) is brushed below the gumline.

The type of products dispensed for the pet guardian to use at home depends on the presence and severity of dental disease in the individual dog.




Dental Care for Puppies

The pediatric life stage for puppies begins at birth and ends at 6 months of age.

Your veterinarian should examine the puppy's mouth carefully at each office visit. The bite should be evaluated. The hard palate should be checked. During the pediatric life stage, both the primary and permanent teeth erupt. The primary tooth and its permanent counterpart should never be in the mouth at the same time. The retained primary tooth will result in the permanent tooth erupting in an abnormal position, leading to crooked teeth or malpositioned teeth that can affect the ability of the dog to close its mouth.

Home dental care is best started at a young age before the adult teeth erupt. The perfect time to have the veterinary care team show you techniques for dental home care is at the first puppy visit. You will find that the daily routine of grooming and dental care that you give your puppy will bond you more closely.




Dental Care for Young Adult Dogs

The young adult life stage for puppies and dogs begins at 6 months and ends at 2 to 5 years of age. The exact end point of young adulthood varies according to breed, with large and giant breed dogs generally spending less time in this life stage. Dogs in this life stage also may be referred to as juveniles.

Permanent teeth continue to erupt early in this life stage. Young adult dogs may break their teeth chewing on hard objects. Close observation for and treatment of fractured teeth is important for the well being of the dog. Periodontal disease begins in this life stage, resulting in the need for professional dental cleanings. Pet guardians should be reminded of the necessity of home dental care.

A complete oral examination should be performed during each physical examination. The time between oral examinations is based on the degree of dental disease and the client's ability to provide home care. Pets that have been treated for grade one (mild) gingivitis, and have their teeth brushed once or twice daily, can be rechecked every 6 months. Some severe periodontal cases need to be rechecked monthly.


D

ental Care for Mature Adult Dogs

The mature adult life stage for dogs follows the young adult life stage, beginning at 2 to 5 years and ending at 9 to 12 years of age. The exact beginning and end points of the mature adult life stage vary according to the breed. Large and giant breed dogs generally spend less time in this life stage.

Periodontal disease becomes more severe as the dog ages. More extensive professional dental care may be needed during this life stage.

A complete oral examination should be performed during each physical examination. The time between oral examinations is based on the degree of dental disease and the client's ability to provide home care. Pets that have been treated for grade one gingivitis, and have their teeth brushed once or twice daily, can be rechecked every 6 months. Some severe periodontal cases need to be rechecked monthly.




Dental Care for Senior Dogs

The senior life stage for dogs follows the mature adult life stage, beginning at 9 to 12 years of age. These years in the dog's lifetime may be called the geriatric years. However, "senior dog" is preferred by veterinarians and pet guardians to describe a dog during this life stage.

Periodontal disease continues to progress, with tooth loss being common. In spite of their advanced age, dogs in this life stage need professional dental treatment to maintain their dental and systemic health.

A complete oral examination should be performed during each physical examination. The time between oral examinations is based on the degree of dental disease and the client's ability to provide home care. Pets that have been treated for grade one gingivitis, and have their teeth brushed once or twice daily, can be rechecked every 6 months. Some severe periodontal cases need to be rechecked monthly.




Frequently Asked Questions About Dental Health for the Dog


Does my dog need a dental checkup?
Yes, a dental checkup should be part of your pet's annual physical examination. Your veterinarian will check the bite (occlusion) of your young puppy. Your older dog will be checked for gum disease, tartar, plaque buildup, and cracked or broken teeth.

How often should my dog need to have the teeth cleaned professionally by a veterinarian?
The frequency of veterinary professional teeth cleaning varies greatly from dog to dog. Your veterinarian can advise you based on his or her knowledge of your pet's teeth. Scaling the teeth once or twice a year may be all some dogs need. However, small dogs and dogs with short muzzles often need more frequent dental cleanings.

Why does my dog have to be anesthetized for dental procedures?
Dogs are not willing to be still and keep their mouths open so people can work on them. A quick movement of your pet's head can cause a sharp instrument to slip and produce potentially serious gum injury or bleeding, so being asleep during the dental cleaning is the best option for the patient. With your dog safely anesthetized, your veterinarian can quickly and safely clean and polish the teeth, perform any necessary dental procedures (such as root canals or extractions), and check the gums thoroughly.




Common questions about safety .


What should I do if my dog has a broken tooth?
Your veterinarian will check the tooth and mouth carefully. The veterinarian will discuss the best treatment with you. Treatment options include root canals, filling the pulp area with special substances (pulpotomy), or pulling (extracting) the remaining portion of the tooth or root. Your dog may be referred to a board-certified veterinary dentist.




Questions about broken teeth.


Will my dog ever need dental radiographs (X-rays)?
Your dog may need dental radiographs (X-rays) at some point. Taking these will require sedation or light anesthesia. Your veterinarian may take dental radiographs to check for broken roots. Sometimes dental radiographs are taken in puppies to determine if all of their adult teeth are coming in normally.

Can I use my toothpaste (that is, human toothpaste) for my dog?
No, human toothpaste is not designed to be swallowed. Your pet is much better off with toothpaste designed for dogs, some of which come in special flavors such as poultry, beef, or seafood!

How do I get my dog to let me brush his teeth?
Ideally, you will have handled your dog's mouth since puppyhood. If not, try putting a little toothpaste or soft treat on your finger tip and gently reach up inside the lips with it. You don't need to open the mouth. Once your dog is used to your finger, try doing the same thing with a small, soft child's or pet toothbrush. If your dog resists all attempts, talk to your veterinarian for additional suggestions.

How else can I help my dog keep his bright smile?
For dogs with recurrent dental problems, special diets are now on the market to help with tartar buildup. Many special dental chew toys and other home care products can be useful. Ask your veterinarian if these would be helpful for your individual dog.




Tooth Luxation or Avulsion


What is luxation or avulsion of a tooth?
A tooth that is displaced from its normal position in the bony socket is luxated (displaced) or avulsed (removed). Luxation can occur in a horizontal or lateral (sideways) or vertical (up and down) direction.

What causes luxation or avulsion of a tooth?
The cause of luxation or avulsion is often trauma, such as a dog fight or road traffic accident, that results in damage to the supporting apparatus of the tooth and allows it to become mobile.

What are the signs of luxation/avulsion?
A luxated tooth is still in its socket but may be loose and have an abnormal position. The tooth may appear shorter than normal, longer than normal, tipped outward towards the lip or inward towards the palate or tongue.
An avulsed tooth is totally displaced from the bony socket. The most commonly avulsed tooth is the upper canine (fang) tooth. In these situations, the tooth should be gently handled by the crown (the smoother end that is normally above the gum) and quickly placed in milk. Your pet (and the tooth) should be taken to your veterinarian as quickly as possible for treatment. Delays will reduce the chance of a successful outcome for re-implantation of the affected tooth.

How is tooth luxation/avulsion diagnosed?
Your veterinarian's oral examination of your pet will reveal abnormal positioning of the tooth (luxation), or an empty socket (avulsion).
Radiographs (X-rays) will be recommended to diagnose the full extent of the injury, and to identify complicating factors such as bone or tooth fractures.

How is tooth luxation/avulsion treated?
The tooth is returned to the original position, and some form of fixation device is applied in the mouth for 4 to 6 weeks to ensure that the tooth remains in place during the healing period.
Many luxated teeth, and all avulsed teeth will require root canal therapy at the time of removing the fixation device, once the tooth is firmly re-implanted in its socket.

What is the prognosis for luxation/avulsion?
With prompt management, the prognosis is good to excellent. Maintaining oral hygiene during the healing phase is essential.



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