Loree W. Hebert, Jr., DVM

It’s likely you’ve never thought much about your dog’s dirty teeth but pet dental care is actually a very important part of maintaining your dog’s health. Just like humans, pets accumulate bacteria on their teeth which can migrate beneath the gums and cause serious health problems, such as tooth loss and damage to organs including the kidney, liver, spleen, and heart valves.

The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some form of periodontal disease by the age of 3.

As a pet owner, you may notice bad breath, a broken tooth, dirty teeth or signs of a painful mouth. These can be signs of progressing dental disease, but dental disease may be present even without these signs, since the actual damage is occurring along and beneath the gumline.

Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth

6 year old canine with moderate to severe dental calculus and gingivitis. No history of brushing.

Brushing your dog’s teeth every day is the single best way to prevent dental disease. Brushing once a day is the current recommendation, based on recent studies which found daily brushing to be statistically more effective than brushing weekly or every other week. An occasional tooth brushing by your pet’s groomer is not helpful if you aren’t brushing on a regular basis between visits.

Brushing is quick and only needs to include the outer surfaces of your dog’s teeth. Brushing should be done with a soft bristled brush. We like the brushes that slide over the finger like a glove, especially for small pets. Pets will ingest some of the toothpaste so don’t use human toothpaste, which contains ingredients that will irritate the stomach. Pet toothpaste is effective and safe, and comes in several tasty flavors (such as beef and liver), which can be a big help in getting your dog to accept tooth brushing.  

Your dog is most likely to accept tooth brushing if you begin while he is still a puppy, even before he gets his permanent teeth,  so he gets used to it being a part of his daily routine.

Comprehensive Pet Dental Treatment

After dental cleaning, in which calculus was removed and teeth were polished to help prevent bacteria from adhering to the surface. Areas of redness from gingivitis will resolve now that the teeth and gums have been professionally cleaned.

During each physical exam, I take a look at the pet’s teeth and gums. I’ll ask about brushing and address any concerns the owner may have. If there are signs of gingivitis, I will recommend a more comprehensive dental exam, with dental X-rays and professional teeth cleaning. These procedures must be performed under anesthesia, and by a veterinarian. With the help of digital dental radiographs, and the probing of the base of each tooth at the gumline, we can identify and treat problem areas in order to stop the progression of periodontal disease.  

We also apply a dental sealant at the base of each tooth to fill space between the gumline and the tooth, where plaque causes problems. What’s great, is that after undergoing this treatment the patient basically resets to a clean bill of dental health! From this point, a routine of daily brushing can be effective in removing bacteria and lessening the need for future dental procedures.

How Often Should I Have My Pet’s Teeth Professionally Cleaned?

I’m often asked whether pets require a dental cleaning on a regular basis, like humans do.  The answer is ‘No’. Since dogs are not prone to develop cavities, they need professional dental cleanings only when calculus has formed and bacteria appear to be invading the gum tissue. This may be only once in a lifetime, or once a year… It’s different with every dog.

Interestingly, there is a definite genetic predisposition to poor dental health in canines. In general, small breeds (less than 15 lbs), who often have crowding of teeth, tend to have more buildup of bacteria in their mouths. I’ve had patients in this group who have required yearly dental cleanings and occasionally every 8-9 months. I’ve also had some large breed dogs who have needed only one procedure their entire life. Some dogs could potentially go their entire lives without needing a professional cleaning or comprehensive dental treatment if they receive daily brushing.

A Final Thought…

If you’d like to begin a routine of daily brushing with your pet, which I highly recommend, try to begin while your dog is still a puppy and before calculus forms on his permanent teeth.

If your dog already has calculus built up on his teeth, then no brushing regimen will be effective in stopping the progression of periodontal disease until the calculus itself has been removed through a professional veterinary dental cleaning. After the professional cleaning, a brushing regimen can be highly effective in preventing future dental problems.

If you have any questions about your pet’s dental health, or if you would like to schedule an appointment, please don’t hesitate to contact us.