Periodontal disease, or dental disease, is one of the most common diseases diagnosed in dogs (and cats!). Up to 80% of dogs have some form of the disease by the time they are just two years old! This is an alarming number, especially because dental disease in dogs is completely preventable. So what’s the big deal, and why should you do something about your dog’s dental health today? Here are some pretty convincing reasons:
Plaque and tartar develop on your dog’s teeth, just like yours. Can you imagine not brushing your teeth… ever? With every meal, food particles and bacteria coat the teeth and form plaque, a bacterial biofilm. The same process happens when your pet eats. After sitting on the teeth undisturbed for about 72 hours, plaque solidifies into tartar, which is the yellow-brown discoloration you see on your dog’s teeth.
Dental disease isn’t always easy to recognize. Dogs have an uncanny ability to tolerate pain and discomfort for our benefit, meaning disease often has plenty of time to progress and worsen before we notice any significant changes to our dog’s behavior. Yet, you can pick up on dental disease sooner rather than later, as long as you recognize the subtle signs such as bad breath and discolored teeth, disinterest in their favorite chew toys, a proclivity toward soft food vs. kibble, and rubbing their faces on the floor, wall, or furniture to alleviate discomfort.
The bacteria in plaque and tartar are far from harmless. Bacteria in plaque and tartar can cause inflammation, gingivitis, gum recession, and even bone damage to the teeth and jaw. This results in a very painful mouth for your pooch!
If left untreated, dental disease can affect your dog’s systemic health. The part of your dog’s teeth that are visible is only part of the story. About two-thirds of each tooth actually resides below the gum line, and it’s plaque and tartar build-up below the gum line that’s most destructive. If left untreated, plaque and tartar can leak into your pet’s bloodstream and cause damage elsewhere in the body, including the heart, liver, and kidneys.
Some breeds have a predisposition to periodontal disease. Small breeds like Yorkies, Pomeranians, Schnauzers, Chihuahuas and others have a predisposition to developing periodontal disease at a young age. This is due to their small mouths that are often overcrowded with teeth, creating lots of nooks and crannies for plaque and tartar to develop.
How Often Should Dogs Have Their Teeth Cleaned?
Preventing dental disease, and the complications that come with it, is completely possible with consistent teeth cleaning. But how often is often enough?
Brush your dog’s teeth daily. Brushing your dog’s teeth is the single best way to prevent plaque and tartar build-up as well as increase the amount of time between your dog’s professional teeth cleanings. Training your pup to accept teeth brushing can be a challenge, but it’s well worth the effort. If your pup is uncooperative, other at-home dental care options are available including:
- Dental treats and chews
- Dental toys
- Water additives
- Oral rinses
- Prescription dental diets
Keep up with annual vet visits (or semiannual). Annual or semiannual visits to the vet always include a dental examination, which is so important for catching dental disease early. Don’t skip annual visits, especially if you have a smaller dog breed who is more prone to developing disease!
Be wary of sedation-free teeth cleanings. While they sound like a great idea, sedation-free dental cleanings are not nearly as thorough as a professional anesthetic teeth cleaning with your veterinarian. Sedation-free teeth cleaning will only be effective in removing plaque and tartar from the visible parts of your pet’s teeth—but there’s a lot more to clean beneath the surface of the gums. Plus, sedation-free cleanings often forego polishing of the teeth because the dog’s patience usually runs out during the scaling process. This means that all the grooves made by the scaling are still in the teeth—and they make for perfect places for plaque and tartar to develop.
Schedule routine teeth cleanings with your vet. Even if you brush your pet’s teeth every day, they’ll still need to see the vet occasionally for a full cleaning. A full teeth cleaning by your veterinarian will include general anesthesia which allows them to thoroughly clean your pet’s teeth both above and below the gum line. Plus, they’ll be able to polish your pet’s teeth to smooth out any grooves and reduce future plaque build-up. In the event your dog’s dental disease has progressed and damaged teeth beyond repair, your veterinarian can also extract the painful teeth and offer proper pain management for your pet’s recovery.