Do you dread visiting the dentist?
If so, it's most likely because you hate the drill, that instrument of torture used to clean up cavities in preparation for a filling. While dogs may dread the vet for different reasons, they should have regular dental checks. Problems spotted early can often be managed with descaling and polishing, before decay sets in and tooth extraction becomes necessary.
Happily, caries is less common in the dog than in people, for a number of reasons. For starters, canine teeth are more conical than flat and widely spaced, which reduces the places that cavity-producing bacteria can hide. In addition, the pH of canine saliva makes the mouth a more hostile place for caries-causing bacteria. And finally, the carbohydrate content of a canine diet is less suited to feeding the 'bad' bugs that dissolve tooth enamel.
However, tooth cavities are largely preventable and yet still happen in dogs. The wise pet parent follows these guidelines to keep their pet's pearly whites cavity-free.
Cavities form when bacteria feed on food debris and produce acids, which dissolve enamel. Basic oral hygiene can sweep away debris and starve those undesirable bacteria into submission.
Tooth Brushing: The gold standard is daily tooth brushing. Use a soft dog toothbrush and a pet toothpaste (Note: Human toothpaste is toxic to dogs). Most dogs adore the flavor of pet toothpastes (what's not to like about beef toothpaste?), which makes your job infinitely easier.
Food and Water Additives: There are an array of food and water additives which reduce plaque formation in the mouth. Plaque is the start of the slippery slope to dental disease and is a sticky coating of mucus, food debris, and bacteria. Look for products approved by the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council.)
Oral Hygiene Products: These are gels, usually containing chlorhexidine, that you rub on the dog's teeth or apply to a chew toy. These linger in the mouth for a few hours and work to kill bacteria and reduce the risk of plaque hardening to tartar.
We all know a sugary diet causes tooth decay in people. This is down to the sugar carbohydrate, which is the bacterial equivalent of a feast. To keep your hound's teeth healthy, be sure to feed a pet-appropriate diet.
Dog Food: Food designed for dogs promotes a different saliva pH, which is hostile to caries-forming bacteria. Avoid human foods, as these are higher in the sugars that those acid-producing bugs love to munch on.
Dental Cleaning Diets: Some dental diets have a scrubbing action on the teeth, which helps to keep debris away and the enamel squeaky clean.
Dental Treats: A similar idea is dental treats, which rub debris away from the enamel surface and shift food stuck between the teeth.
Professional Dental Checks
Timely removal of plaque and tartar keeps your best buddy's bite in tip-top gnashing condition. But this requires a professional descale as necessary.
Vet Dental Checks: Dental checks at six or 12-month intervals are advisable. The vet is alert for signs of plaque, tartar, and gum recession as warning signs that action needs to be taken.
Descale and Polish: An examination under anesthesia allows the vet to clean teeth and probe for caries cavities. The latter are often not visible in the conscious dog because of their location or being masked by debris.
Visit a Veterinary Dental Specialist: If your dog has caries and dental x-rays reveal the roots are sound, then consider asking for a referral to a special doggy dentist. They can clean and fill the hole, just like a human dentist.
No Toothaches, No Headaches
No one wants their dog to have a toothache and professional dental care can be expensive. The obvious solution is to avoid the problem in the first instance, by taking good care of their teeth.
Contrary to myth, a dog does need regular toothbrushing. Just like us, a dog's teeth quickly become sticky and dirty if their oral hygiene is not attended to. If you're lucky enough to have a puppy, then start young so they accept toothbrushing as part of their daily routine.
But you can teach an old dog new tricks, and with patience you can teach an old-timer to accept brushing without demure. Just think of the fresh breath benefits….and enjoy planning what you'll do with the money saved from that professional dental clean up....