You have started to notice that the smell of your dog’s breath is getting worse, or perhaps they seem to be chewing their food differently. What could this mean? It may mean your dog needs their teeth cleaned or some teeth removed.
This InfoRx explains what a dental cleaning is and when it's needed. Additionally, it will help explain the reasons behind why some teeth need to be extracted and how you can help your dog feel comfortable afterward.
As a dog grows up, the number of teeth they have changes. When puppies are born, they don't have any teeth. At about 3 to 4 weeks of age, their teeth start coming in. These are referred to as deciduous teeth. There are 28 deciduous teeth that are usually all present by the time your puppy is 3 to 5 months old. Included in these teeth are the incisors, the canines, and the molars. Your dog’s permanent teeth erupt between 3 to 7 months of age. There are 42 permanent teeth in adult dogs, no matter what breed or size they are. Humans only have 32!
Dental disease is a common medical condition seen by veterinarians. It is estimated that this disease is present in over 80% of dogs over 3 years of age.
Dental care is essential for a dog's overall health because the lack of care can lead to problems that extend beyond just their teeth, such as inflammation in the heart and liver, as well as chronic kidney failure in older dogs.
It's important to have your dog seen at least once a year for a dental examination, at the time of their regular wellness visit. Your veterinarian will then get an idea of the extent of your dog's general dental health. They are looking to see how much plaque and tartar has accumulated on your dog's teeth, the extent of damage to their gums, potential tooth root exposure, loose teeth, etc. The full extent of damage cannot be determined until your dog has been sedated and dental radiographs (x-rays) have been done.
If dental care is not performed daily or regularly at home, plaque and tartar form on your dog's teeth. If it is not removed, damage can occur to the surrounding tissue and bone and potentially cause other health issues for your pet in the future. Some health issues that result from extensive and chronic periodontal disease are bone loss which can lead to fractures of the jaw, heart disease, kidney disease, etc.
There are several reasons why tooth extractions are needed.
Periodontal disease is the most common cause why dogs lose their teeth. It leads to gum disease and causes the teeth to decay. As you might imagine, this is painful and uncomfortable for your dog. The longer your dog lives with periodontal disease, the more damage occurs not just to their teeth but their entire body. All the bacteria that is present can lead to infections elsewhere in the body. In severe cases, this can result in a life-threatening infection.
Trauma to your dog's teeth can happen from a number of causes. They can be chewing on something too hard, like a bone, or it can be due to an injury to their mouth. The tooth can be chipped, split, or completely broken. These teeth must be removed to prevent pain and potential infection.
Since dogs use their mouths for more than just drinking and eating, they tend to have more issues with tooth decay and wear and tear. This damage to their teeth can cause the pulp and nerves to be exposed.
All of the chewing, picking up things, and toting things around in their mouths takes its toll on their teeth. Besides these activities, the hair, dirt, food, etc., that passes through and collects around their teeth creates additional issues.
It appears that some dogs, such as small breeds and Greyhounds, seem to experience tooth decay more readily and quickly than other breeds. Unfortunately, this means they often need more teeth extracted.
Another issue that leads to extractions is retained teeth. There are times when puppies’ deciduous teeth (puppy teeth) do not fall out when the permanent adult teeth erupt. If these teeth are not extracted, it can result in overcrowding and malposition of the permanent teeth. Abnormal positioning of teeth and the extra rows of teeth increase the risk of periodontal disease.
If your dog's veterinarian determines that your dog needs a dental cleaning and possibly some extractions, it is critical you follow their advice and recommendations before and after the procedure.
It is important to understand that your veterinarian can only do an initial assessment of your dog's dental issues while they are awake. So, the true extent, as far as periodontal disease, tooth root abscesses, damaged teeth, etc., cannot be determined until your dog has been anesthetized and dental x-rays are done.
Therefore, it is important to be available by phone while your dog is having their dental procedure because your veterinarian may have to contact you if they find more dental issues than originally suspected.
Following the procedure, be sure to follow your veterinarian’s discharge instructions closely. Depending on how bad your dog’s dental disease was and if extractions were needed, your veterinarian might send your dog home with antibiotics, pain meds, and an oral rinse. Be sure to give all medications as directed, even if your dog does not seem painful, and do not stop or alter their medication in any way without first consulting with your vet.
If your veterinarian provided an oral rinse, use it as directed. The oral rinse often has an angled adaptor you can easily place in the corner of your pet’s mouth and then squeeze the bottle. This is usually done on both sides of the mouth. If your dog doesn’t like the bottle, you can get a syringe from your veterinarian and use that instead. The syringe is often easier to manage, and you can hide it better than the bottle of rinse.
Nausea: Oftentimes, dogs can get nauseated from the anesthesia. If your dog has a history of this, be sure to inform your veterinarian so they can provide early relief. If your veterinarian has not given them something pre or post-procedure, be sure to ask them what you can give your dog if they seem nauseated or are vomiting.
To know if your dog is nauseated, they may drool, lick their lips frequently, retch, or gag and they may vomit a watery or greenish liquid.
Grogginess: They could also be groggy from the anesthesia, so providing them a quiet environment to rest upon returning home is critical. Be sure to let them rest in a moderate temperature location – neither too warm nor too cool.
Coughing: Your dog may cough from irritation of intubation during the procedure (a tube is passed into the throat and down the trachea to help keep their airway open). This happens especially with brachycephalic breeds (pugs, bulldogs, etc.) since they tend to have narrower tracheas. If your dog doesn’t seem better within 2 to 3 days of their procedure or their cough is very harsh and constant, contact your veterinarian.
Eating: If your veterinarian says your dog can eat a small meal later in the evening, following the procedure, soften dry food with warm water, or use canned food. Move food and water bowls close to where your dog is resting so they don’t have to move around much.
Chewing toys and dental care: If your pet just had a dental cleaning and no extractions, you can let them go back to playing with their toys about 48 hours later. Additionally, you can begin their at-home dental care at that point as well.
If your pet had extractions done, do not let them chew on toys or edible chews for about 10 days. This will allow time for the tissue to heal. If your dog had multiple, difficult extractions, your veterinarian may advise you to wait 14 days or recommend your dog not to chew on any hard items in the future. You can also begin your at-home dental care at this time with the approval of your dog’s veterinarian. You do not want to risk opening any places in the gums where they were sutured closed.
Generally, after a basic cleaning, your dog will be back to their normal eating, drinking, and playful selves in about 2 days.
If your dog had extractions in addition to their cleaning, their mouth may be sore for up to a week. But generally, you should notice an improvement about 2 to 4 days following their procedure.
If your dog doesn't want to eat, drink, or acts painful after a 36-hour window has passed following their procedure, contact your veterinarian. They may need additional pain medications or need to be re-evaluated by your vet.
If your dog is vomiting or has diarrhea, contact your veterinarian. Vomiting once or twice in the first 24 hours following the procedure can be a normal response to anesthesia but still contact your veterinarian to let them know. They'll give you some guidance if anything else needs to be done.
If you notice your dog pawing at their face and mouth area, avoiding their head being touched, or they seem painful when eating, contact your veterinarian.
Early intervention is the key to prevention. It is recommended, once yearly for adult dogs and twice yearly for senior dogs, to have an oral/dental exam done by their veterinarian. This will help identify issues early so that treatment can be initiated before there is further progression of disease.
Within 6 hours after your dog has a cleaning, plaque is already forming
Home dental care is essential in the prevention of dental disease. There are many ways you can help prevent it. To make it a habit, perform dental care prevention daily. Additionally, determine which methods work the best for you and your dog. Often combining two or more helps keep you consistent. The following are some methods you can try at home.
DO NOT USE HUMAN TOOTHPASTE. Their ingredients are not meant to be swallowed. They contain too much fluoride and other ingredients that may be harmful to dogs. Pet toothpaste is safe to swallow, does not foam, and the flavors are more enjoyable for animals. Additionally, they contain enzymes that aid in the breakdown of plaque. Your veterinarian can make some recommendations. For dogs who hate to have their teeth brushed, you can try Oratene Brushless Toothpaste Gel.
Do not use baking soda. It can upset their stomach and digestive tract if swallowed because of its high alkaline content. Try to brush daily but at the very least every 2–3 days. Something is better than nothing, but just think about how your teeth feel after a few days!
This video explains how to brush your dog's teeth.
If your dog isn't used to having their teeth brushed, work slowly to get them used to having their mouth handled. This video breaks down all the steps to make your dog comfortable with brushing.
There are special dental diets that add in the prevention of the accumulation of plaque and tartar. Some even help with gingivitis (inflamed gums) and halitosis (bad breath). Some options include Royal Canine Veterinary Dental Diet, Purina Pro Plans Veterinary Diets DH, and Hill’s Prescription t/d dental diet.
As long as your dog has no food allergies or digestive issues, you can give them dental treats that have the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal on them. Only those treats that have this seal have been proven to reduce the accumulation of plaque and tartar. To obtain the seal, the product must pass strict scientific studies. If you go to VOHC.org, you can find a list of accepted products. Your veterinarian can also be a source of recommendations.
For dogs with severe periodontal disease, you can talk with your veterinarian about Oratene Oral Antiseptic gel. This product contains a potent enzyme that aids in the treatment of gingivitis and periodontal disease. It soothes and relieves inflamed gums. By not having to touch painful gums with a brush, your dog will be more willing to allow the treatment.
To prevent potential fractures and tooth damage to your dog’s teeth, avoid giving your dog deer antlers, beef or pork bones, or any items that can be too hard.
Apply the thumbnail test: If the toy or chew doesn't “give” a little bit when you press it with your thumbnail, then it's likely too hard for your dog and could break their teeth.
Use caution when you are outdoors playing sports such as golf or baseball. Many dogs have had their teeth broken by flying balls or swinging golf clubs or bats.
Lastly, dogs that chronically carry and gnaw on tennis balls can develop tooth decay, especially on their incisors (front teeth). The abrasive felt of the tennis ball wears down the enamel on your dog’s teeth (this could expose the tooth root and pulp, necessitating a tooth extraction or root canal). Try to limit how often and how long they carry and chew on any type of ball.
As always, consult with your dog’s veterinarian for additional guidance on ways to help prevent dental disease.
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