The Importance of Dental Care in Dogs By Laura McLain Madsen, DVM

Lift up your dog’s lip. Take a good look—and smell—of his mouth. Is there any yellowish, brownish or grayish gunk on his teeth? That’s tartar (also called calculus). Is there a bad odor (more than normal doggy breath)? That’s halitosis. Are the gums red or bleeding? That’s gingivitis.

Dental care is as important for our pets as it is for us. Think about it this way: we brush our teeth twice daily, floss, and maybe rinse with mouthwash, but we still need a professional cleaning at the dentist’s office every 6 months. Our dogs don’t brush their teeth unless we do it for them, and many pet owners never brush their dogs’ teeth. So it’s no wonder that they get serious dental problems requiring veterinary care.

For humans, our biggest dental problems are usually cavities. Dogs generally don’t have a problem with cavities but they have other serious issues:

  • Gingivitis: Inflammation of the gum tissue.
  • Periodontal disease: Inflammation and infection of the bone around the teeth. This can lead to loose teeth, pain, inflammation, bad breath, and tooth loss. Infection from periodontal disease can spread through the bloodstream to the kidneys, heart, and other organs.
  • Broken teeth: The canine teeth (fangs) and the carnassial teeth (the big chewing teeth in the back of the mouth) are both prone to fracturing. The shape of the teeth puts them at risk of breaking when the dog is chewing anything hard, like bones, hard toys, sticks, or rocks. When the tooth breaks, the pulp canal (the hollow inside that contains blood vessels and nerves) is exposed. This can be very painful, although dogs tend to be stoic about pain so they may not tell you it hurts.
  • Abscesses: Bacteria can travel up inside a broken tooth or around a diseased tooth to set up infection in the jaw. Symptoms are pain, swelling of the jaw or face, and a bloody or pus-like discharge.

The best way to prevent these dental problems is with regular dental care. Brush your dog’s teeth daily with doggy toothpaste. There are many other oral products available: food, sprays, gels, treats, etc. Choose one that has the seal of approval from the Veterinary Oral Health Council. See the list of approved products at .

Even with regular tooth brushing at home, your dog will still need periodic professional dental care. Your veterinarian will put your dog under general anesthesia, scale the tartar off the teeth, polish the teeth, probe around each tooth to check for periodontal disease, and examine each tooth for chips, fractures, looseness, etc. If any teeth look suspicious your veterinarian will want to x-ray them, using a dental x-ray machine like your dentist uses.


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