How does dental health impact the overall health of my dog?

Dental health is so important. It really affects your dog's entire body. If your dog has dental disease, not only can it be painful, but also, as we know, in humans, gum disease can be a sign that there are more serious things going on in the body. And certainly, if we have infections along the gum line, this can cause bacteria to be released into the body and cause heart disease and even kidney disease.

And most importantly, dental disease is painful. So if we have cracked, broken, or infected teeth, those are chronic sources of pain. Your dog's never going to raise their hand and say, "Hey, I've got a toothache." They'll learn to live with pain, which is really unpleasant. And nobody likes to think about that going on. So it's really important that you have exams on a regular basis.

Dr. Michele Drake
Drake Center For Veterinary Care

How can I care for my dog's teeth at home?

So what we recommend is that the dog certainly comes in here once a year, at least, and perhaps twice a year, depending on their age and have us take a look at the mouth, because we really don't want you even brushing the teeth if they have problems that would be painful.

But once we've examined your dog's teeth, then we recommend brushing them every day. And some people ask if it's okay for them to only get brushed when their dog goes to the groomer. I tell them that that would be about the same as you going to get your teeth brushed once a month when you had your hair done. So it is vital to brush your dog's teeth every day.

What are some signs and symptoms of dental disease in dogs?

The most common symptom or sign of dental disease in dogs is bad breath. So really, if your dog has chronically bad breath, that's because there's a lot of nasty bacteria underneath the gum line, creating some really nasty smells. And so that's the most common. There are more severe signs, but not until they're really severe, and that would be if they're drooling or dropping food. That's when the mouth is so bad that they can't even eat.

What are some of the common dental diseases in dogs?

We have gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gums along the border between the tooth and the gum. So you would see the redness of the gum. Periodontal disease is a more severe disease when the disease goes underneath the gum line and up the inside of the tooth. That's periodontal disease. We can also have broken teeth. Dogs get tumors in their mouth. Certain tumors grow due to inflammation in certain breeds, or they can get oral cancers. So really, when we talk about dental disease and oral health, we're talking about all the above.

Why is early detection and diagnosis of dental disease so important?

By keeping the mouth really clean, just like you or me, if we have regular dental care and have our teeth professionally cleaned hopefully at least twice a year and we are really good about brushing and flossing at home, we can keep our teeth clean and our mouths healthy. If we wait three years and then start doing that, we're going to have many more issues. It's the same thing with dogs and cats that if we can keep their mouths healthy, keep them healthy beforehand, then we're going to get to keep those teeth a lot longer, and we'll have a lot less pain in the mouth as well.

How often should my dog's teeth be checked?

At a minimum, once a year. So in dogs above 10 years, we recommend twice a year because we start to see things accelerate more at that stage, and we begin to see a lot more dental disease. And we don't want to wait and hold off. I know some people get fearful of dentals because they require anesthesia, and people are afraid of anesthesia.

And I always tell people that I know for sure that the dental disease will progress. There's always some risk with anesthesia. But honestly, we never have any issues here because we're so diligent with our anesthetic protocols. And so there is nothing to worry about. There are things to worry about, though, with letting dental disease progress, which are pain and illness, and that's not a good situation.

What is a professional dental cleaning like for my dog?

Your dog would come to the veterinary clinic or hospital first. We would examine them before the day of the procedure, and we would draw some blood to make sure that their kidney and liver and everything's in good shape. We will check their heart and do a thorough physical exam on them before we do any anesthesia.

Then the day they come in here, we're going to go ahead and give them just a little pre-anesthetic for anxiety and to help with soothing the anesthetic procedure. We're going to place an IV catheter. That's so they can have fluids, and that's a way of supporting them during the anesthetic process.

At some point, they're going to be anesthetized, and they're going to be intubated, being that they're going to have a tracheal tube down into their throat. So we help them breathe. And that's how we administer the gas anesthetic as well.

Then the dental cleaning is going to occur, and the doctor will be right there with the technician who's doing the cleaning. We're going to take dental X-rays because half the tooth is underneath the gum line. So if we don't take dental X-rays, we don't know what's going on. We're going to assess the X-rays. We're going to check the pockets of the teeth, the space between, how much space is underneath the gum that's being exposed, or a cause for any pain. That could be a place where there's disease, periodontal disease.

And then we're going to decide whether or not there's going to need to be any extractions, which hopefully that's not the case. Before we do anything like that in the dental surgery, we're going to call you and let you know what we found and get your permission to go ahead and proceed, which you generally are going to do.

We're going to wake your pet, then after the procedure, provide pain medication, which can include an intraoral (local) block. It's going to include IV meds and probably some oral medication to go home.

They're going to stay with us until they're completely recovered from the anesthesia. But when we send them home, and they are still going to be a little bit sleepy. So you can anticipate that. But certainly, we take calls for a couple of hours after this. So if anything is going on, you're always welcome to call us.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (760) 753-9393, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Dentistry/Dental - FAQs

Dr. Michele Drake
Drake Center For Veterinary Care

How often should I brush my dog's teeth?

Ideally, you will brush your dog's teeth every single day.

Are there any tips for making brushing a dog's teeth easier?

We will be happy to show you when you're here at the hospital, but we also have a video online to show you. Dog toothpaste and dog toothbrushes explicitly made for them will make it easier for you to do that. And we do have different sizes; we don't have the same size for a Chihuahua as our German Shepherd. So there are different sizes and even different flavors of toothpaste.

That goes into my next question. What products should I use when I brush my dog's teeth?

So we have a couple of brands that we like that are probably the safest and best to help keep the mouth healthy and certain types of brushes. But we always talk to the client and make sure that it's something they're comfortable with when we send it home. So come on in, and we'll show you what we have and pick the best for your dog.

Can I use human toothpaste on my dog?

No, we don't recommend that you use human toothpaste on your dog because it's not meant to be swallowed, and the dogs will swallow their toothpaste because they're not going to be spitting. So we want you to use dog toothpaste.

Do I still need to brush my dog's teeth if I give them dental treats?

Yes. Unfortunately, there are no foods or dental treats that will completely take care of your dog's mouth. Some of them can be a little bit helpful, but for the most part, you need to brush your dog's teeth to get at the place between the tooth and the gum, like up on the upper arcade, which is the most important. We don't generally even try to do the lower arcade; it's not really possible. But just 30 seconds here, 30 seconds here, 30 seconds here, and really you've done a good job. So making sure that you get that toothpaste contact and you get some good mechanical scrubbing done, it's going to do the job for you.

Can dogs get cavities?

Dogs can get cavities, although they're pretty rare. We see a lot more periodontal disease and gingival disease, and broken teeth due to chewing on things. But they can get cavities.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (760) 753-9393, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.