Is dental disease in dogs common?
Middle aged dogs often suffer severe dental problems which frequently cause them considerable pain and discomfort.
Are the problems the same as with us?
No. Our most common problem involves caries (decay) which is due to demineralisation (loss of calcium) from the enamel resulting in painful infected cavities.
Dental caries in the dog only represents approximately 10% of dental problems. The majority are caused by periodontal disease.
What is periodontal disease?
This is infection of the tissues surrounding the teeth which includes the gums and sometimes the bone of the jaws. Accumulation of plaque and calculus (tartar) leads to gum recession and infection around the tooth. If untreated infection then spreads into the tooth socket and ultimately the tooth loosens and is lost.
Is periodontal disease common?
Over 85% of dogs over three years of age suffer some degree of periodontitis. It is the commonest canine oral disease.
Why does tartar accumulate?
The dog’s mouth is an unhygienic environment teeming with bacteria. Many of these breed on the teeth surfaces and form an invisible layer called plaque. Some plaque is removed naturally by the dog’s tongue and chewing habits. Plaque allowed to remain thickens, becomes mineralised and then is visible as dental calculus (tartar). Left unchecked, plaque under the gum line causes inflammation of the gum (gingivitis), The affected gum starts to separate from the teeth (this is seen as gum pockets or gum recession) and injury to the soft tissue and bone supporting the teeth occurs. Ultimately, the tooth loosens.
As the mouth and gums become more infected tonsillitis and pharyngitis also occur. The bacteria can also be absorbed into the blood stream and carried to other organs. For example in older dogs heart infections may be due to dental problems. The septicaemia (bacteria in the bloodstream) may also cause kidney and liver problems.
Can dental calculus be prevented?
Plaque is converted into dental calculus in some dogs more quickly than others. Special canine toys and chews and feeding dry food tends to reduce tartar build up, as does regular home care. Please see Dental Home Care handout.
Once the teeth have a coating of calculus it is necessary to remove it. In the dog this requires a general anaesthetic, unlike the majority of people. Once carried out regular dental home care will help tremendously to prevent rapid re-occurrence.
"Once the teeth have a coating of calculus it is necessary to remove it. In the dog this requires a general anaesthetic, unlike the majority of people."
What is the procedure?
First it is important to make an appointment for a dental check-up. If your dog is middle aged or older it is often worthwhile carrying out routine blood tests to check the kidney and liver functions since chronic periodontal disease often results in kidney and liver problems. The tartar and more importantly invisible plaque has to be removed completely. For this a general anaesthetic is usually necessary. Sometimes antibiotic treatment is prescribed before any work is carried out. Depending on the severity of the problem we will then make an appointment for your dog to undergo general anaesthesia allowing us to clean the teeth thoroughly.
This is carried out using hand scalers and ultrasonic cleaning equipment so that tartar, both visible and that which is accumulating below the gum line is removed to prevent, or at least slow down, gum recession. The teeth are then polished. This is to discourage plaque build-up. While under the anaesthetic we may find that other procedures such as fillings, extractions etc. are necessary. Should the need arise it is important that we have a contacting telephone number where you will be available so that this can be discussed during the course of the procedure.
How do I prevent tartar build-up after the scale and polish?
We will routinely make an appointment for a check up a few days after the dental work during which detailed instructions will be given regarding home care. It is important to get your dog used to having the teeth brushed. Do this by using an old toothbrush dipped in his dinner or favourite food. This gets the dog used to having the brush in his mouth. We will then explain the procedure of dental home care carefully and supply you with a useful leaflet.
Can I try using human toothpaste?
No. Products intended for our use containing foaming agents are not meant to be swallowed. They are universally resented by dogs and their use will set back considerably any plans you have to prevent further tartar build-up since you will lose the dog’s cooperation.
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