Dental care in dogs is a critical part of a dog's overall health. Much more than a dog dental cleaning, oral care performed correctly by a veterinarian is a combination of medical and surgical treatments called Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment (or COHAT). 

Dog dental care at The Hometown vet

On this page, you will find answers to many of the questions that we are commonly asked when it comes to dog dental care.

Dog Dental Care Q&A:

What is dental disease in dogs?

Dental disease is a general term for conditions that affect the teeth, gums, tooth roots, and bone in the oral cavity (mouth). In dogs, most of the time we are talking about periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is caused by a buildup of tarter and bacteria below the gum line. This leads to gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), bone loss, and eventual loss of teeth.

How often does my dog need a dental exam?

Your dog’s teeth and gums should be checked at least twice a year by a veterinarian to look for early signs of problems. Some dogs require more frequent exams. An awake visual exam has limitations, but our veterinarians are trained to look for signs of underlying disease and design a treatment plan. Yearly anesthetic COHAT procedures are the best way to keep your dog's mouth and teeth healthy.

What signs do you look for that a dental procedure is needed?

Bad breath, broken or loose teeth, extra or persistent baby teeth, teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar, bleeding gums, ulcerations, or if your dog is showing resistance to having their mouth touched. Signs can also be subtle. If there is any accumulation of tarter or redness of the gums, there is likely dental disease present. The best way to avoid dental disease is to perform regular, COHAT treatments. Once periodontal disease starts, it cannot be undone. Preventative care is the key.

How do I know if my dog’s teeth are causing pain?

Signs that your pet may be experiencing pain include bleeding from the mouth, swelling in or around the mouth, reduced appetite, or refusal to eat, weight loss, abnormal chewing, drooling, or dropping food. Dogs use teeth the way that we use our hands. A painful mouth makes it very hard for dogs to enjoy a normal life. Keep in mind that dogs can be very good at hiding pain, therefore, regular oral examinations and COHAT procedures are the best way to ensure that your dog's mouth does not hurt.

Will my dog be getting x-rays?Dog Dental Xray

X-rays, also called radiographs, are essential for a complete assessment of their mouth; therefore, all our dental patients have whole mouth x-rays performed under general anesthesia. This allows us to fully assess the tooth. 60% of the tooth is hidden from view and surrounded by bone. Studies show that more than half of patients receiving only a dental cleaning without dental x-rays will go home still suffering from painful, untreated conditions.

How long does a dog dental cleaning appointment take?

The dental is a day procedure. We admit your dog into the hospital early in the morning. A thorough exam, review of your dog’s history, and any necessary blood work is performed. The doctor will choose the appropriate medications to start the sedating process and an IV catheter placed. Your dog will be intubated, anesthetized, and monitored while full mouth intra-oral radiographs are performed, a comprehensive oral exam completed, teeth cleaned with ultrasonic scaler, and then polished. If your dog needs extractions, these are performed during this time. Once finished, your dog goes to recovery to wake up from anesthesia. A trained veterinary assistant is with them the whole time to provide them with warm blankets and a therapy laser session on their mouth to reduce pain and inflammation. When fully awake, they move to their housing area until their dismissal time later in the afternoon.

Are there any tips for making brushing a dog’s teeth easier?

Try making teeth brushing a positive experience. Give them a treat, play with one of their favorite toys, or praise them right after the brushing is complete. If possible, start young! Getting them used to being touched around their mouth, the feel of the brush, and taste of the toothpaste. You may try different kinds of brushes. A finger brush or placing a small piece of gauze over your finger can sometimes be more comfortable.

What products should I use to brush my dog’s teeth?

There are many excellent options. We recommend products the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) has evaluated and approved to reduce plaque and tartar. Finding an appealing flavor your dog may like can make it more fun. We recommend and carry OraVet dental chews and C.E.T pet toothpaste in our hospital with more options on our online store and pharmacy.

Can I use human toothpaste on my dog?

We do not recommend using human toothpaste. Many products contain fluoride, foaming agents, and sugar alcohols that can be harmful to dogs when swallowed. Great, safe, veterinary toothpastes are available and come in several tasty flavors like beef, poultry, malt, and more.

Are there chew toys that can also work to “brush” my dog’s teeth?

There are currently no Veterinary Oral Health Council approved chew toys, meaning they have not seen significant beneficial effect on oral health to place their Seal. Many chews like bones, antlers, hooves are much too hard and pose a significant risk for fracturing teeth.

Why does my dog have stinky breath?

Bad breath can be a sign of dental disease. This is due to bacterial growth and often infection within the mouth. We recommend scheduling an appointment with our veterinarians so we can perform a full physical exam including a thorough look into their mouth, complete appropriate blood work, and address any questions you may have about scheduling a comprehensive dental procedure.

What kind of dental and oral problems can dogs have?

Our dogs can suffer from several kinds of problems. Periodontal disease, inflammation of the supportive tissues around the tooth is the most common reason. Other commonly encountered problems include tooth fractures, abscesses, oronasal fistulas, gingival enlargement (hyperplasia), tooth resorption, cysts, and oral cancer.

Why would my dog need extractions?

Extractions are removal of teeth and are performed to improve your dog’s quality of life by relieving pain or to help them chew more normally. The most common reason for extraction is periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is inflammation of the supportive tissues around the tooth that leads to bone loss and eventually loosening of the tooth. Another reason is misalignment (malocclusion) causing teeth to hit one another or do not allow their mouth to close properly. Baby teeth (deciduous) that do not fall out when the adult (permanent) teeth erupt need to be extracted to prevent overcrowding and excessive calculus buildup. Fractured or severely damaged teeth that are infected or painful are also major reasons to extract a tooth.

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

Recognizing and treating dental disease early can reverse the early stage of periodontal disease, avoid extraction, or complications like jaw fractures. Good dental care will prevent pain and can make your pet live a longer, healthier life. Plan for twice yearly awake examinations and yearly anesthetic COHAT procedures to help ensure that your dog maintains a healthy pain-free mouth.

For a more information about pet dentistry at The Hometown Veterinarian, explore: Dental Care For Pets

To learn more and to set up an evaluation, call our office located in Marshalltown, Iowa at 641-758-3333 or click to Request an Appointment