Taking Care of Your Dog's Teeth
From teeth cleaning to a scale and polish, look after your dog’s teeth
Just like us, dogs suffer with dental disease if we do not look after their teeth. The wear and tear on dog mouths can be huge – think about how often they use their mouths for carrying, playing, grooming, and chewing, as well as eating of course!
Here at Vets4Pets we want to help you keep your dog’s mouth as healthy as possible, by promoting great ways to protect your dog’s teeth, as well as helping with our veterinary services when home care isn’t enough.
The normal canine mouth
Dogs have 42 permanent teeth, 20 on the top and 22 on the bottom. These adult teeth replace the baby teeth by about 6-8 months old. In a healthy mouth, these teeth are creamy-white in colour, there should be no built up of deposits on the teeth, and gums should be pink. Some dogs will have black pigmentation on the gums and tongue; this is normal.
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Caring for your dog’s teeth is critical. Dogs use their mouths for much more than eating, and they are as important as hands are to us. Caring for your dog’s teeth can be done in several ways:
- Tooth brushing: This is the gold standard for oral home care for dogs, and should be started as early in life as possible, just like for people!
- Oral gels: These gels are applied between the cheeks and the teeth daily, and help neutralise plaque and bad breath.
- Dental treats/chews: These mould to the tooth as they are eaten and help remove plaque. They can be high calorie so should be used as part of a balanced diet.
- Food additives: These can be added to food or water, and should be used daily to help naturally prevent plaque from forming.
- Dental diets: Prescription dental diets are specifically formulated to protect the teeth, if your dog is at high risk of dental disease.
In young dogs:
- Retained puppy teeth: The puppy teeth sometimes remain in the jaw after the adult teeth have erupted, especially in small breed dogs. These baby teeth need to be removed, which is often done at neutering.
- Fractured teeth: As dogs use their mouths for so much, teeth can occasionally break. This exposes the sensitive centre and is very painful.
In older dogs:
- Gingivitis: Teeth start to build up tartar and plaque. As this occurs gums become inflamed and red, and may recede. Gingivitis is reversible with home care or minor veterinary intervention if treated in time.
- Periodontitis: If not treated gingivitis progresses to periodontitis, which includes damage to the bone around the tooth root. As this happens teeth become loose. These teeth can fall out or fracture, and infections/abscesses can be seen.
- Tooth root disease: Some dental disease affects the tooth roots and cannot be seen without the use of x-ray. Tooth root disease can be very painful if left untreated.
Many conditions require veterinary dental treatment, and in all cases your vet or nurse can help you decide on a treatment plan.
Naturally, the development of dental disease is a painful process. Signs are often vague, or non-existent, but can include:
- Picky eating
- Becoming withdrawn
- Food-shy behaviour
- Bad breath
- Weight loss
Some behavioural changes attributed to old age can actually be due to oral pain and can be hard to notice. In fact, some dogs may exhibit no outward signs at all! Regular dental checks with your vet or nurse are the only way to make sure your dog is not being affected by dental pain.
It is important to note that not showing any signs does not mean your dog is not in pain. Dogs may try to hide pain, or ‘soldier on’, and can be very adept at this. As well as pain, oral infections are often present in advanced dental disease, and infections that start in the mouth can travel around the body, worsening organ conditions such as kidney, heart and liver disease.
Dental checks are a great way for your clinical team to check your pet’s mouth, but the entire mouth can be difficult to fully examine in a conscious examination. These checks allow us to estimate the level of treatment required, but a full examination of every tooth is undertaken if your pet progresses to dental treatment under general anaesthetic. This ensures nothing is missed.
Once your dog has had a dental examination, a dental plan will be created. This will ideally include tooth-brushing, but may also include dental-supportive food/treats, and feed additives that defend against plaque.
In some cases implementation of preventive strategies will be enough, but many dogs will require treatment under general anaesthetic before these can be started. This allows teeth to be cleaned, painful teeth to be removed, and for all teeth to be thoroughly checked beyond what is possible in a conscious pet.
To see what goes on when your dog comes into the clinic for dental treatment, follow our behind the scenes link.