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Dog Dentistry/Dental - How Good Dental Health in Dogs Helps Longevity


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

Well, if you can imagine, your dog's mouth has a lot to do with their overall health. It's how they bring in food. It's how they communicate. It's how they play and interact with their environment. And it's vital that we keep that area healthy and clean. Not only for those puppy kisses that we like to receive, but also because poor dental health can affect a lot of other systems in the body, including the heart, the kidneys, and the immune system. And so it's an essential part of overall health.


Dr. Menolly Cote
Freeport Veterinary Hospital

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

There are many things that we can do to take care of your dog's teeth at home. The number one best thing that we can do is to brush your dog's teeth daily, which sounds pretty crazy because we all have a lot to do each day, but getting that food debris and bacteria and tartar off their teeth regularly is the best way to keep them healthy. If that doesn't work for you because of your dog's personality or your schedule, there are many other things we can consider too—things like certain dental chews or treats. There are water additives or even little wipes that you can use.

You want to look for a quality product, and I would look for something called a VOHC seal, a little white box in the corner from the Veterinary Oral Health Council. The VOHC is an independent counsel that evaluates products to make sure they improve dental health. So I would look for that little white box on a package of Greenies or some other approved product to make sure you're getting something that's going to work.

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

Well, there are the obvious symptoms like terrible breath. You can see a black or brown tooth or even a tooth that's loose, but those are late-stage signs of dental disease. We can see much earlier signs with reddened gums or changes in the tooth color. And so it's crucial that we can look at your dog's teeth a minimum of once a year, if not more frequently, to look for those early warning signs.

Other things that you can look for at home would be changes in how they're chewing. So if they only chew on one side of their mouth or they're unusually dropping food, or all of a sudden, they don't want to play with their favorite toy, these could be indicators that something is going on in their mouth.

What are some of the common dental diseases in dogs?

The most common one would be what we call Gingivitis, which is very similar to Gingivitis in people. It's inflammation of the gums. And that usually happens because of increased bacterial load in the mouth and just the physical irritation of the calculus or tartar buildup on the teeth. We can also see fractured teeth. Dogs like to chew on things, and sometimes they chew on things that are a little too hard for their teeth, so we can see fractures happen that can expose the nerves of the tooth. These fractures eventually lead to abscesses infections at the tooth root. We occasionally see cavities in dogs, but it's certainly not as common as that in people. And then there's always the potential for a growth or traumatic injury in the mouth as well.

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

I would say the number one reason is that the earlier we find something, the easier it is to fix it. And so when we find early dental disease, we can typically resolve it with just a cleaning. And before we do that cleaning, we do a full examination of the mouth and take dental x-rays to look for underlying problems. But when we're just looking at some mild Gingivitis, that's pretty easy to fix. When dental disease goes unchecked for years and years, we often end up having a lot of tooth decay, and that can end up leading to several extractions, which makes it a much more involved and invasive procedure and also a lot more expensive.

How often should my dog's teeth be checked?

I would say a minimum of once a year as pets get older or in those breeds that are more prone to dental disease. A few examples of that would be any tiny breed dog or dog that has kind of a smushed face, like a Boston Terrier, and then also Doxins are at a higher risk of dental issues. Those sorts of dogs should probably be seen at least twice a year, if not more frequently, to evaluate their teeth. And as dogs get older, we often want to see them more frequently for many reasons, but the teeth are one of those.

What does a professional dental cleaning look like for a dog?

In some ways, it's very similar to what you get at your twice-a-year cleaning at your doctor's office. The big difference is that we can't just ask little Fluffy to sit still and say, "Ah." And so, in pretty much every situation, a cleaning with the dog will involve anesthesia, and that's not only so they'll hold still. It's also because we use an ultrasonic scaler that uses water to help clean the teeth, and that does aerosolize bacteria. And we want to have a breathing tube in place to protect their airway.

Whenever we do any kind of a dental procedure in dogs, we always do full dental x-rays of all their teeth to evaluate everything under the gum line. There are a lot of problems that you can't detect just from looking at the teeth themselves. And so it's essential that we get the full picture by taking x-rays, and they are included in any procedure that we do.

In addition to this, we also do full dental charting, which you've probably had at your doctor's office, although they may not have verbalized it to you. We take a small probe and test the health of the gums around the teeth and examine the entire mouth and all the structures in it to make sure everything looks healthy. And then, even though we call it a dental cleaning, the dental cleaning is the least essential part in a lot of ways. It's just cleaning the tartar off and polishing, but all the things I brought up before are the best and most importants parts of that dental procedure.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (207) 865-3673, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Dentistry/Dental - FAQs


Dr. Menolly Cote
Freeport Veterinary Hospital

Why does my dog need anesthesia for a teeth cleaning?

There are many reasons. It seems like you should be able to do a quick cleaning and chunk off that tartar pretty easily in most dogs, but what you don't think about is one, the dog doesn't know what we're doing. And two, sometimes those are sharp instruments. It's hard to make the dog understand that you just need to hold still for a little bit. So, it's vital that we use anesthesia to keep the dog and our staff safe, but more importantly, by having them under anesthesia and having a breathing tube in place, we're able to protect their airway. We use an ultrasonic scaler to remove the tartar and clean the teeth, and that aerosolizes a lot of bacteria as we're cleaning off that tartar. If we didn't have a breathing tube in place, it could allow your dog to breathe in that bacteria, which would put him at risk for an infection like pneumonia.

Also, we take dental X-rays on all of our patients. We use a tiny plate (about an inch and a half by an inch and a half ) that captures the X-ray images, and it costs about $10,000.00. So we'd prefer Fluffy not to swallow that or chomp on it. That's another reason that anesthesia is critical, as we want to keep that plate safe and allow us to get really good films and figure out what's going on with the teeth.

How is anesthesia administered to my dog? And who monitors them after it's been given?

All of our patients undergoing anesthesia have the same general routine in terms of their anesthesia. We tailor our medications and dosages to the individual patient based on their age, any health concerns, and what the procedure is going to be. All of our patients coming into the hospital that will stay with us take pre-visit medications that include an anti-nausea medication and a mild anti-anxiety medication. By taking these things before they even enter the hospital, it reduces stress and allows us to use less anesthesia because we're not overriding a significant Cortisol or stress response just from walking in the door.

Then before the procedure, they receive an injection. It includes pain medication and a mild sedative to help them relax so we can place an IV. Once the IV is in place, we will induce anesthesia with another medication, typically a combination of a medication called Ketamine and Propofol. This helps your dog to fall completely asleep so that we can put in a breathing tube, also called intubation, and then hook them up to an anesthesia machine. All of our patients under anesthesia are monitored with a very complex anesthetic monitor that looks at their breathing, heart rate, oxygenation, CO2 levels, and blood pressure. On top of that, we always have a technician whose only job is to sit there and monitor your dog.

We love our machines, but we trust our techs even more. So, we have that human intervention to make sure that the machine is telling us the truth and changing anything if we need to at a moment's notice.

I've heard some vets offer anesthesia-free dental. Is that true?

Some vets indeed offer this. It's more commonly seen at grooming facilities or things like that. The veterinary dentist, in general, believes that this is not a great idea. Some of the reasons include what I talked about before in that we have sharp instruments in the dog's mouth, so there are some safety concerns there. But also, when you don't have a dog that's not anesthetized, you can't evaluate under the gum line. You can't monitor the roots or check for gum health, or things like that. By just cracking that tartar off or scraping it off, you're also damaging the enamel. Without polishing out those scratches and scrapes, we can damage the enamel over time and cause more problems.

Why are antibiotics and pain medication sometimes prescribed for dog dental procedures?

We administer antibiotics in a situation where we have an immunocompromised dog or one that has some sort of an orthopedic implant. There was some thought years ago that dogs that have heart disease might benefit from antibiotics, but that's fallen out of favor. Pretty much every dog that undergoes a dental procedure, even just a cleaning, will get at least a single dose of anti-inflammatory pain medication just because we are going up under the gum line to remove tartar and poking around in there. We want them to be comfortable. Certainly, if we have a dog that's receiving any sort of an extraction, we want to have adequate pain control onboard for a minimum of five to seven days afterward.

How do I know if my dog will have a reaction to anesthesia?

If your dog has had problems before, we would want to be extra careful. As I mentioned, we evaluate every dog as an individual. We look for risk factors based on their breed, based on their age, or based on concurrent health problems. Having that dedicated technician there monitoring for any problem as it comes up is the best we can do to ensure your dog stays safe. Anesthesia is never 100% free of complications. We can't guarantee that. But we do everything we can to make sure your dog is safe. In general, I feel like we have an excellent safety record and do well. I hope I'm not jinxing myself by saying that.

Is my dog too old for a dental cleaning?

Age is not a disease. If a dog's 12 or if a dog's 20, I want to treat them in a way that's going to maintain their quality of life for as long as possible. When we're dealing with an older patient that may have some other health conditions, we need to weigh what sort of quality of life the impact the dental disease is having, which in many dogs can be pretty significant if they have painful or loose teeth. It can make it hard for them to eat and just be very uncomfortable. As long as we don't have any significant health condition that could make anesthesia essentially deadly, I think it's at least worth considering looking at the procedure and looking at how this might benefit the patient.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (207) 865-3673, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

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