Donna partners with Dr. Cathy Alinovi, a retired veterinarian, to create informative pet health articles.
February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and one of the goals of this special event is to raise awareness in pet owners about the need for cat and dog dental care. Your dog's bad breath is more than just annoying and stinky; it could be life-threatening.
In today's interview with Dr. Cathy Alinovi of Hoofstock Veterinary Services, we'll learn why it's important to be diligent about your pet's oral health and hygiene. All questions were asked by Donna Cosmato during an email interview on February 5, 2013.
Dr. Cathy: If it hurts to eat, our dogs may have reduced quality of life. Tartar buildup on teeth is really bacteria and debris; these bacteria erode gums, get into the blood stream, and can cause systemic infections.
Bloodborne bacteria frequently travel to the heart valves and cause heart murmurs, and can travel to other organs and cause dysfunction there. In addition, as pet parents, we like our dogs to have good breath—kisses shouldn’t leave an odor on our skin—that is clearly a sign of a problem.
Dr. Cathy: Bad breath can be a sign of tooth infection, sinus infection or something going on in the stomach – called stomach heat in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. Simply, stomach heat comes from eating food that is hard to digest – usually over-processed foods like kibble. Certainly, bad breath leads pet parents to look in their dogs’ mouth and see what is going on.
Dr. Cathy: Loss of interest in certain foods, slowing down while eating, dropping food out of the mouth, and even bleeding from the mouth. I’ve seen swollen faces, excessive drooling, and the tongue handing out where it didn’t used to.
What red flag symptoms signal the need for immediate veterinary care?
Dr. Cathy: Not eating or blood coming from the mouth.
How much, on average, does dog teeth cleaning cost?
Dr. Cathy: There is a huge range on how much a dental cleaning costs. It depends on the region of the country, anesthesia, age of your dog (whether or not pre-anesthetic blood work is recommended), and what other procedures are needed.
Remember, you may take your dog in for a dental cleaning but the veterinary staff may discover a full dental procedure may be needed. This may include extractions or oral surgery.
Finally, it's important to shop around and compare rates. For instance, I charge $125 for a little dog, but 10 years ago at the Purdue Vet School, they charged me over $600. It depends so much on the vet's philosophy, so you have to interview. Geography matters as well—the fees in New York City, for example, will be about five times the fees in Indiana where I practice.
Dr. Cathy: In a cleaning, the tartar is scaled off the teeth including under the gum line. Usually, an ultrasonic scaler is used to vibrate the tartar off. Teeth are checked for looseness, cracks, holes, and root exposure.
Some veterinarians offer dental radiographs to see what is going on at root level – again, just like us. Loose teeth are usually pulled, cracks and holes will be evaluated for caries/cavities like in humans and root exposure may lead to tooth extraction or other prophylactic treatment to preserve the tooth.
If there is gum overgrowth, called epulis, laser surgery can help return the gum to its normal location, making it easier to keep the teeth healthy. Oral masses may even be discovered.
Once loose teeth are pulled, all teeth are scaled, a high-speed polish, again, just like for us humans, is used to shine up the teeth and remove any staining. Some veterinarians will even offer fluoride treatment (of course, use of fluoride is controversial in any species).
Some veterinary offices will offer a sealing procedure—it is unclear exactly how helpful sealing the surfaces of a dog’s teeth is—nutrition may be the real key to preventing further dental issues.
Dr. Cathy: Most commonly, dentals are performed under anesthesia. Therefore, there is some anesthesia risk. And, as many dental patients are older, recovering from anesthesia may take longer as older patients can sometimes have a difficult time metabolizing anesthesia.
Occasionally, a tooth may break, needing more work for extraction. Very rarely, in very small dogs, jaw fracture can occur. Another risk relates to intubation – many vets pass an intubation tube to prevent water aspiration during the procedure and to maintain anesthesia.
There is a fine line between a snug fit of the tube and too tight. Some dogs may cough for a few days after a dental because of this. Some vets avoid the issue by tilting the head and the table down and do not intubate but use a gas mask instead.
What do pet owners need to know about brushing a dog's teeth?
Dr. Cathy: If the tartar has already built up, brushing the teeth will not make that hard stuff go away. Brushing when the teeth are clean and shiny helps prevent future build up.
What dental products do you recommend?
Dr. Cathy: A soft bristled toothbrush is plenty. This question is better answered by what I don’t recommend: no baking soda, no tooth pastes with sugar, no unpronounceable chemicals in the paste.
Is a dog toothbrush and dog toothpaste all the pet owners need?
Dr. Cathy: It depends on the size of your dog and its mouth. Some dogs do great with a washcloth or gauze pad on the finger. Some dogs do great with a baby tooth brush or an adult brush. You’ll need to experiment. Dog toothpaste is controversial – can your dog swish and spit out the residue?
Dr. Cathy: Puppy teeth need things to chew most of all as the mouth rapidly loses teeth. By six months, the adult teeth should be in so lots of chewing is needed to get through the teething stage. After learning the right thing to chew on, the adult dog will still chew, hopefully not as destructively, and keep those teeth clean. Puppy teeth are more fragile.
Dr. Cathy: Some dogs don’t lose all their baby teeth. One important thing about brushing daily is it means you are examining daily, which is perfect! What’s changed? Are there extra teeth that need a little help on the way out? Is there fur build up around the lower incisors? We should be able to stick our hands in our dogs’ mouth and inspect everyday to catch things early.
What are doggie dentures?
Dr. Cathy: Doesn’t that sound awesome!! Dogs can have dentures, caps, root canals and prosthetics just like us. These procedures require the services of a specialist. Our pets deserve the best we can afford to give them.
What type of diet do you recommend to promote dog dental health?
Dr. Cathy: I find this is the number one way to keep our dogs’ teeth healthy! No grain, no by-products to get caked on a dog’s teeth; that keeps most mouths healthy the longest. Meat protein keeps the mouth acid so tartar doesn’t build up on teeth. The best way to get meat protein is to feed a balanced meat-based diet.
How can pet owners help reduce or prevent tooth decay and oral diseases?
Dr. Cathy: Feed a great diet and use natural chews like elk or moose antlers. The less processed anything is that goes in the mouth, the less build up that will occur in the mouth; just like humans.
What's your opinion regarding the efficacy of products such as dog chew toys, dental rinses or other dog treats in regard to dog dental care?
Dr. Cathy: Many of these products are self-proclaimed to be great for the teeth. Most rinses or water additives are chemicals that may be proven to work on tartar but have not been evaluated as to how they affect our dog’s internal organs over time. Some of the so-called healthy dog treats have been implicated in intestinal obstruction. The best chew “toy” for keeping teeth clean seems to be antlers and knuckle bones. Antlers and knuckle bones have a pumice effect, they don’t splinter and will last for hours.
Dr. Cathy adds the following: There is a new trend toward anesthesia-free dental cleanings. This is wonderful for avoiding anesthesia risks. On the downside, the dental technician may have a hard time cleaning under the gums, the patient may squirm, and extractions cannot be done when the patient is awake.
Always interview your vet’s staff. Do they intubate, are all the charges inclusive of the quoted price, how do they charge for teeth that need to be extracted? There are many questions to ask to fully prepare for canine dentistry.
Some breeds are predisposed to poor dental health, and it tends to be the cute little dogs who are already challenged by having big teeth in a little head. Dogs such as Yorkies, Toy Poodles, and Pomeranians have a heck of a time and may need dentistry by two years of age. It is hypothesized these dogs don’t make good oral enzymes or it may be genetic; regardless, toy breeds have more dental issues than large breeds.
While a national holiday such as Pet Dental Health Month is a good way to make all pet owners aware of the need for good oral hygiene for their pets, you might want to take Dr. Cathy's advice and make sure you are monitoring your pet's mouth, teeth and gums for any problems on a regular basis.
It's always easier to prevent potential health problems than to try to cure them.
Military working dog dental care Image by The US Army under CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr
Will's teeth by ejhogbin under CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr
Dog and carrot by andy_carter under CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr
Undisclosed author, "February is National Pet Dental Health Month, AVMA
Email interview, 02/05/2013, Dr. Cathy Alinovi, Hoofstock Veterinary Services
This veterinary medical information is based on information provided during a telephone interview with a professional, qualified, retired veterinarian. However, it is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. Always seek your veterinarian’s advice about your pet’s health.
While this information is periodically researched and updated (under the guidance of veterinary input) in the attempt to be timely and factual, no guarantee is given the information is correct, complete, and/or up-to-date.
Recommendations as to therapeutics, diagnostics and best standards of practice in the veterinary industry and/or opinions between professionals may differ or change as technologies and information changes. You should not use this article as your sole source of information on any matter of veterinary health or attempt to self-diagnose or treat your pets as the information herein may not be appropriate for your pet. The safest option for you and your pet is to rely on the advice of your veterinarian to diagnose and recommend the best treatment options.
© 2013 Donna Cosmato
Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on February 08, 2013:
Thanks, BlossomSB! I'm glad you liked this.
Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on February 07, 2013:
Really useful information for dog owners here. Thank you for such helpful advice.
If you’re like a lot of dog lovers, you recognize the importance of a healthy mouth for your dog, but you might be a little confused. How often should you brush your dog’s teeth yourself vs. taking Fido to the veterinarian for professional teeth cleaning? Are there long-term health implications if you DON’T get your pup’s teeth cleaned regularly? Are there signs of dental problems you can look for in your dog's mouth? Great questions, all!
First, you should know that regular cleaning of your dog’s teeth is extremely important. Periodontal disease is a leading problem for dogs. This causes gums to bleed and plaque to build up. If left untreated, it can lead to painful gingivitis (gum inflammation) and tooth loss. In other words, your dog is susceptible to all the things that people are when it comes to dental care.
Yet, many dog lovers don't care for their dog's teeth regularly because they don't realize the importance. Here's a quick way you can check. Take a look at your dog’s mouth. Does he have ugly brown stains on his teeth? That’s tarter build up. How’s the doggie breath? Less than fresh? These are two signs that he could use a dental cleaning.
Despite what you may have heard, stinky doggie breath is not part and parcel of the canine species. It can be an indication of a mouth filled with bacteria due to infected gums, and that’s a recipe for pain, tooth loss, and other health problems. What's a dog lover to do? Your veterinarian can help you create a personalized dental plan for your dog. It will combine both home dental care and professional level cleaning so your dog can have the best care.
Brushing and Toothpastes
From disposable dental wipes to dog-friendly flavored toothpaste, a variety of pet-safe dental care products exist in the marketplace. Ask your vet what’s best for your dog and know that some trial and error may be required depending your dog’s breed and temperament.
In rinse and gel form Chlorhexidine is an effective anti-plaque and antiseptic but not all dogs tolerate the taste. Check with your veterinarian before giving this product a try.
Feeding your dog a well-balanced diet in accordance with veterinary guidelines for age and breed is an important step in oral health.
Dog chews are not only created for play and preventing destructive behavior, some are intended for the sole purpose of dental health. Be cautious and informed before purchasing, not all chews are created equal. Many are too hard and can cause dental fractures or pose choking hazards.
Celebrate the October “AKC Treat of the Month” with 35% off Dogswell Dental Jerky! Support your dog’s dental health and freshen their breath in a way they’ll enjoy. Offer valid October 1 through October 31. Use promo code 35BREATH during checkout on Amazon. One bag per order eligible for discount.
Your veterinarian will discuss a customized schedule with you, but the general rule is that your dog needs an annual cleaning. When you bring your dog in for his annual wellness exam, we’ll examine his teeth and look for any potential problems, such as lesions in the mouth, sore gums, or stinky breath. If you notice that your dog is showing any symptoms of potential dental problems, please schedule a visit with your veterinarian.
In the ideal world, you would brush your dog’s teeth daily. Yes, we realize your dog may not want to cooperate but hopefully, with a bit of patience and practice, you can incorporate this into your routine. As you may know, there are a variety of doggie toothbrushes and toothpastes on the market. Doggie toothpaste not only has enticing flavors like beef and chicken, but it also is made with ingestible ingredients that won't hurt your pup's stomach when he swallows it.
We recommend starting slowly by rubbing your finger across your dog’s teeth with or without doggie toothpaste. You want to get him used to having your fingers in his mouth. Once he's used to your fingers, you'll introduce the toothbrush. This may take a few sessions and that's OK. It's still a win! On the other hand, if your dog is absolutely, no way, not having it, then you can talk to your veterinarian about alternatives.
The Veterinary Oral Health Council have created several PDF's with recommendations for chews and dry diets. There are also mouth rinses especially made for dogs. While these can help supplement the day to day care, they don't remove the need for professional cleaning.
If you notice your dog's appetite changing, especially if your dog does not want to eat, that is a clue that something could be wrong. Other obvious signs include things like bleeding gums, broken teeth, or tartar build up. You don't want to wait because if left untreated, dental problems can lead to periodontal disease which leads to painful gums and lost teeth for your dog.
The secret to great dog dental care is to start when they're young and maintain a regular schedule of teeth cleanings. That way, you can reduce the risk of tooth decay and the accompanying pain. If you would like one of our veterinarians to assess your dog's dental health, please contact us to book your appointment.