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Dental Disease
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Dental Disease

Dental Disease

I was totally unaware that dogs have dental problems. Is it common?

Dental disease is probably as common in dogs as in man and is probably just as painful. Dogs however do not have the same powers of communication of their discomfort and therefore until relatively recently a lot of dental problems have been overlooked in our pets.

Are the problems the same?

No. In man the most common problem is caries or decay which, due to the demineralisation (loss of calcium) from the enamel and the dentine results in painful infected cavities. In the dog decay only represents approximately 10% of dental problems, the majority of which are caused by periodontal disease.

What is periodontal disease?

This is simply infection in the tissues surrounding the tooth. Accumulation of tartar (calculus) on the teeth will cause the gums to recede around the base of the tooth. Infection soon follows and as a result of inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) they recede. Untreated infection then spreads into the tooth socket and ultimately the tooth loosens and is lost.

Is periodontal disease very common?

It is estimated that over 85% of dogs over three years old suffer from some degree of periodontitis, making it by far the most common canine oral disease.

What is tartar and can it be prevented?

The canine mouth is naturally a very unhygienic environment. It teems with bacteria. Many of these bacteria will breed on the surfaces of the tooth and form an invisible layer called plaque. Some of this is removed naturally by the dog’s tongue and chewing habits (particularly when young) but if allowed to remain the plaque thickens, becomes mineralised and is then visible as tartar (calculus). The tartar as it thickens presses on the gums which recede and the bacteria then result in gum infection (gingivitis). The gums gradually recede so that ultimately the socket is infected and the tooth is lost.

As the oral infection increases tonsillitis and pharyngitis can also occur. In addition, the bacteria are absorbed into the blood stream and can be carried to other organs. For example in older dogs heart infections are frequently due to bad teeth. Kidney and liver problems may also occur.

Can tartar be prevented?

Plaque in some dogs is mineralised much quicker than others. This depends on the individual. Special canine toys and ‘chew’ as well as feeding dry food does tend to reduce tartar build up, as does regular home care – cleaning. Today there are many products designed to reduce tartar in our dogs. (Please ask for a separate hand out).

Will feeding dry food remove tartar?

Once tartar has formed it will be necessary to remove it with a professional scale and polish under a general anaesthetic. However once removed dental home care goes a long way to prevent rapid re-occurrence.

What is involved with a scale and polish for my dog?

The tartar and more importantly invisible plaque has to be removed completely. For this a general anaesthetic will be necessary. If the patient is fairly elderly it will be prudent to carry out routine blood tests to establish that kidney and liver function are satisfactory. Sometimes antibiotic treatment is instituted before full dental prophylaxis is carried out. We will be happy to discuss this with you.

Under an anaesthetic scaling, both by hand and using ultrasonic cleaning equipment will remove tartar, both visible and also that which is accumulating below the gum line. It is this which causes gum recession. The teeth are then polished in order to try to prevent subsequent plaque build-up as much as possible. It may be necessary to carry out other procedures at the same time such as fillings, extractions etc. and sometimes special applications such as fluoride may be indicated to decrease tooth sensitivity and strengthen enamel.

These procedures will all be fully discussed either before hand or when you bring your pet in. We also ask for a contacting telephone number when you leave your dog so that we can discuss any additional work that may be indicated once under the anaesthetic.

Do I have to make an appointment for my dog to have a scale and polish?

Yes, for the reasons detailed previously we prefer to see the dog before an appointment is booked for dentistry. Then a general health check will be carried out and any laboratory tests arranged.

How can I prevent tartar accumulation after the procedure?

We will probably make an appointment for a check up a few days afterwards. Detailed instructions will then be given regarding home care. In the meantime it may be worthwhile getting your dog used to having his teeth brushed. Do this by using an old toothbrush dipped in his dinner or favourite food just to get him used to having the brush in his mouth. However we will explain the procedure of home care very fully and supply you with a useful leaflet.

Can I use human toothpaste?

Do not use human dentifrice on any account. These are foaming products and are not meant to be swallowed. They are universally resented by dogs.


Periodontal disease affects the structures surrounding otherwise healthy teeth.

It occurs in over 85% of dogs over three years of age. Home care involving regular cleaning of the teeth is the best way to prevent periodontal disease and thus the possible loss of many otherwise healthy teeth.

Consider how your teeth would look and feel if you failed to brush them every day. Your dog's teeth are really no different. Unless you regularly provide some form of dental care at home there is a very great possibility that periodontal disease will occur. Ideally it is preferable to train your dog to accept the procedure when a puppy but even elderly dogs can be trained to accept and even enjoy the procedure.

Dogs, unlike people, have a fairly long, flexible tongues and therefore it is not quite so important to brush the lingual, or inside, surfaces of the teeth since these are rubbed fairly vigorously by the tongue and consequently the build up of tartar on these tooth surfaces is considerably less than we experience.

How do I start to train my dog?

The procedure should be made as pleasurable as possible. For the first few days simply hold your dog as you normally do when petting him. Pet him particularly around the head and use treat rewards and lots of praise. Do this especially at your pet's meal time since for a healthy dog is the most pleasurable part of the day. You are going to utilise this to encourage dental home care compliance.

Your veterinary practice will supply a special toothbrush designed for use in your dog's mouth. Initially dip this in your pet's dinner or in some meaty titbit, for example pate, and brush this on the outside of the teeth holding the jaws shut and inserting the brush gently between the lips with the bristles against the teeth at an angle of approximately 45 degrees to the tooth and gum surface. Gently rub the bristles against both the teeth and the gums.

If necessary let the dog consume some of his meal in between brushing sessions.

Most people find their dogs will tolerate the cheek teeth being cleaned before they are happy to allow you to clean the front teeth or incisors. If you do have problems do not hesitate to contact the practice.

Once your pet is used to having the outside of the teeth cleaned in this way, it may be possible for you to venture into the mouth to clean the inside surfaces. To do this you have to hold the dog's head up as high as possible and then gently open his mouth. If you can hold a finger or your thumb pressed against the roof of the mouth, this will prevent him from shutting his mouth. However as previously stated this procedure is not as important as cleaning the buccal or outside surfaces of the teeth.

If you find you are unable to carry out these procedures, do not despair. Today there are special foods that have been formulated to help with tooth cleaning and there are also gels and other antiseptic solutions that can be applied on a daily basis. Please contact us.